Sketches for a new 60 -by- 25-foot mural depicting Elizabeth Kaax̱gal.aat Peratrovich, a Tlingit civil rights activist who worked for equality for Alaska Natives in the 1940s, are laid out for sorting in the studio of  Tlingit and Athabascan artist, designer, and activist Crystal Kaakeeyaa Worl. (Courtesy photo / Crystal Kaakeeyaa Worl)

New mural to honor Alaskan civil rights leader

The 60-by-25-foot mural will greet visitors.

Soon, a new mural depicting Elizabeth Kaaxgal.aat Peratrovich, a Tlingit civil rights icon, will greet visitors approaching downtown Juneau by water.

Peratrovich, who was born in Petersburg and lived in Juneau, worked for equality for Alaska Natives and is best known for her 1945 speech to the territory Legislature that helped prompt an anti-discrimination law in Alaska almost 20 years before the federal government took similar steps.

The 60- by 25-foot mural is the work of Tlingit and Athabascan artist, designer, and activist Crystal Kaakeeyaa Worl. It will appear on the currently blank south wall of the Marine Parking garage, the structure on which the downtown branch of Juneau’s public library sits.

“This is something I really wanted to see happen,” Worl said during a recent interview with the Empire. “I wanted a mural that commemorates this woman and is an identity piece.”

Worl said that the mixed media piece features bold contemporary colors and uses a Tlingit formline design. The mural features a large picture of Peratrovich with a raven and sockeye in the background to represent her moiety and clan. Brightly colored salmon eggs in the foreground represent regeneration and looking to the future.

Worl said that, like Peratrovich, she is a member of the Lukaax.ádi (Sockeye Salmon) clan and this mural is a way to honor and commemorate her fellow clan member.

“Educating the public about the local Indigenous values, culture and history is important for Alaskans and visitors alike. This mural will also contribute to the movement to transform Juneau into the Northwest Coast arts capital of the world and will beautify and enhance the downtown Juneau area,” Worl said in an online description of the project.

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The process

Preparing an outdoor mural to withstand the rigors of Southeast Alaska’s weather is not an easy task.

A printer in Philadelphia is printing the mural on parachute cloth and shipping it to Juneau this week, Worl said. Once it arrives, she and her team of apprentices will assemble it like a puzzle in her studio and add layers of paint — making it a mixed media piece.

Once the wall is cleaned and ready to go, Worl and her team will adhere the mural to the wall and add the finishing touches.

“Because of the crevices, I need to hand paint,” Worl said, expressing a bit of trepidation about the process. “I’m just going to do it. I am. I just keep telling myself that.”

A final coat of sealant will protect the work from sun, rain, wind and snow.

A long road

Depending on the weather, Worl expects to install the mural beginning Aug. 17 and to complete it by Aug. 23.

The road to installation has been long.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Worl said, citing the “sheer amount of stress” over the past three years the project has been in the works.

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Worl said that fellow Juneau-based artist and owner of Alaska Robotics, Pat Race, approached her about painting the piece on the Rockwell Building three years ago. When that location didn’t pan out, the library became “Plan B.”

“I’m super happy with that. It’s larger scale, closer to the water and will greet visitors,” she said.

She applied for more than 100 grants to move the project forward and was awarded a Rasmuson Foundation individual artist grant.

As the project started moving, COVID-19 delivered a blow by thwarting her plans to collaborate with Lauren Brevner, a Vancouver-based artist specializing in large-scale pieces featuring women of color.

“We had to put the collaboration aside,” Worl said, noting that it was not practical to ship art back and forth and travel restrictions made it impossible to get together in person.

Earlier this year, as Worl was preparing to order the special paints and supplies for the project, freezing temperatures plunged Texas into darkness and affected the production of the materials she needs — an event that pushed her timeline back a few months.

“There have been so many hurdles,” she said. “I had to make some scary predictions on paints and sealants because they are tough to get.”

Funding

Worl said that grants have allowed her to hire apprentices to help with the project and that she’s grateful to have the support of the Sealaska Heritage Institute to make the idea a reality.

She estimates total expenses for the project at $64,870. So far, her contribution, grants and awards have totaled $42,653, leaving her $17,217 short.

For the final leg of funding, she’s looking to crowdsourcing with hopes of raising another $15,000.

So far, her GoFundMe campaign has attracted 179 donors and almost $12,000. She said that extra money would allow her to create a QR-code-linked website that helps visitors learn more about the subject, the artist and formline art.

The City and Borough of Juneau will own the piece. Sealaska Heritage Institute will provide insurance for and maintain public safety during installation and has agreed to repair the mural for the next ten years.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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