There are fewer than 80 southern-resident orcas that visit the waters near Seattle. So there’s a chance, the artist Wyland likes to think, that a pod of whales will swim past The Edgewater Hotel and see themselves painted on the side, almost as big as life.
“That’s my dream,” Wyland said on Friday, as his mural depicting 16 orcas on the north side of the waterfront building was dedicated. “That they spy hop and see their own.” (“Spy hopping” is when whales and dolphins stick their heads out of the water and look around).
The mural — which Wyland painted for free over three days — replaces a similar work the artist painted on the same wall in 1985, and that was painted over 10 years later when the Seattle hotel at 2411 Alaskan Way was renovated. That mural was number five in the “100 Wall Series” that Wyland, 63, started in the 1980s, when he was in his 20s. The repainting of The Edgewater is “Whaling Wall” number 101.
Edgewater Hotel general manager Bob Peckenpaugh was working as a front-desk clerk then, and remembered Wyland as a “young punk artist with a mustache who forgot his room key all the time.”
“We’re very glad to have Wyland back,” Peckenpaugh said.
The internationally known marine artist and conservationist’s full name is Robert Wyland, but he goes by Wyland. (“One name. Like ‘Madonna,'” said his photographer, Gary Firstenberg).
The new 150-foot-wide mural features a mud shark, an ode to the late musician Frank Zappa, who once stayed at the hotel and recorded a song called “The Mudshark.” (The fish, who caught it, and what was done with it, is the stuff of urban legend).
“We asked for that special,” Peckenpaugh said.
The mural also features a“V-Pod” — four orcas named for Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, his wife and two daughters.
Vedder, who is a neighbor of Wyland’s on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, came down to The Edgewater earlier this week to help paint the mural.
That meant climbing onto the scaffolding — some 55 feet in the air, over the water.
“I’ve done it a few times,” cracked Vedder, who is famous for climbing the walls of The Moore Theater and the stage scaffolding at 1992’s “Drop in the Park” show at Magnuson Park.
“I didn’t know how cool an adventure it would be,” Vedder said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat. Anything that can remind people of natural beauty, and the fragility of it.”
Someone told Vedder that the mural is expected to last for 30 years.
“That might be longer than the health of our oceans,” he said.
Wyland, a native of Detroit, remembered his first visit to Laguna Beach, California, one of the places he now calls home. He was 14 and visiting an aunt when he plunged into the Pacific just as two California gray whales broke the surface.
“They were like dinosaurs,” he said. “I can still see their barnacle-encrusted backs. The most beautiful animal on the planet.”
His career has been built around celebrating whales, and the ocean. His Wyland Foundation includes the Wyland World Water Pledge, a 10-year outreach program to inspire and engage every person on earth about the sustainable use of the planet’s oceans and marine life.
“This mural is a reminder that these beautiful whales are threatened by one species,” he said. “And that’s us.”