Newhalen School serves the communities of Newhalen and Ilimana, neighboring villages located on the largest lake in Alaska. When asked what they like to do for fun, the answer will almost certainly include one of the following: fishing, hunting, berry picking or basketball. The entire community feels like a family. Community events are common, and the new school gym is a focal point for these large gatherings- be it basketball games, NYO, potlucks, dances, or graduation.
The old gym had a much loved, graphic mural of a Malemute sled dog team (the school mascot is the Malemute) so they were looking to honor that imagery in the new mural. As I worked closely with the community to gain a sense of their values, favorite activities, and the place they call home, it became apparent I would be painting more than just a dog team. The school was incredibly supportive of my fluid design process. Because this was a remote project, I tried to plan as much as I could, especially when it came to materials. Decisions about the design continued to change as I painted- in response to the space, lighting, and growing inspiration during my seven week stay.
The main mural covers the top half of three walls, with silhouettes on the bottom half of all four walls. The focal points are Roadhouse Mountain, Iliamna, Iliamna Lake, Newhalen, the Newhalen River, and a dog team being led by a Malemute. Within that design framework, there was room for ponds and lakes, local flora, a spruce hen, moose, seals, a sly fox, and perhaps even a lake monster.
Newhalen and Iliamna left a lasting impression on me- through the kindness of the people and the pure awesomeness of the place. The mural is infused with that connection at every level.