By Joseph Robertia
Art teaches many things to children. Transforming a blank canvas into a painting takes creativity, focus, perseverance and sometimes even problem-solving — all skills that are also important to academic and life success.
As such, when the directors of Triumvirate Theatre decided to give a face-lift to the Triumvirate North building they’re renovating in North Kenai to create a new performing arts center in the Nikiski area, they knew they wanted kids to be part of the process.
“Part of the goal was to create a new cool piece of art to enrich the community,” said Joe Rizzo, with Triumvirate. “But another part was to enlist kids to involve them in this community project, since our hope is this building will be a community arts center for this area.”
The Adcox Mural Project — as it has come to be formally known due to portraiture artist James Adcox spearheading the design and work — was made possible with funding by the Rasmuson Foundation through the Arts in Education Fund administered under contract by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
The mural is 24-feet wide by 12-feet tall and will go on an exterior wall of Triumvirate North on the Kenai Spur Highway, about 6 miles north of Kenai.
“It already is jazzing the place up,” said Chris Jenness, a consulting artist on the project and a Triumvirate board member.
Adcox, formerly of Nome, was selected to be the principal artist for the mural based on several factors, including that he had done similar large, Alaska-themed murals before.
“I had seen some of his other works in progress and it blew my mind,” Jenness said. “We loved his sketch of the proposed work for us. His style is very bright and colorful, and very naturalistic.”
In addition to his art skills, Adcox also has worked with kids, in Nome and since coming to the Kenai area two years ago, so he shared Triumvirate’s mission to incorporate young people into the project.
Adcox said that the kids involved assisted him with prepping the canvass for better paint adhesion and establishing some of the base colors. That was particularly important since the piece was done in exterior latex paint, rather than his usual medium of oils.
Colleen Dempsey, who graduated from Nikiski High School this spring, has been accepted to Oregon State University, where she plans to pursue a degree in art. She said she gained a lot from taking part in the mural project.
“I love art and took part for the experience. It was
great to see how it all came together. He is an amazing artist and uses his art to help people. I watched what he did and he taught me some new things, especially with techniques for scenery,” she said.
With the students helping with the prep work, Adcox was able to focus on learning more about the aspects of the mural in which he was not as well versed as the art itself.
“This organization has also always been into the history of this area. We’ve done a lot of shows on this history, so we wanted something that would highlight the historical significance, as well,” Rizzo said.
In order to better learn the history of the area, and which parts would be the most significant to area residents, Adcox consulted with Dr. Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology with the University of Alaska at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus.
“This is my first historical mural, and I’m new to the area, so meeting with Alan seemed like a good idea. It gave me a good starting point. After talking to him, I knew there were some key elements I wanted to include. There ended up being so many significant events I couldn’t fit them all in. It took a lot of reworking. I haven’t erased that much in years,” Adcox said.
Once he settled on key elements — from a Native
salmon-sharing ceremony to Capt. Cook’s exploration, Russian fur traders, homesteading and more modern oil and fishing industries, just to name a few — Adcox said he tried to balance these images throughout the mural.
“I didn’t want any one person or thing too enlarged. There is a large salmon and raven due to their significance to the history and culture of this area, but there is a flow to it, with vignette scenes around them,” he said.
Under each vignette will be an interpretive sign to make the mural more understandable to visitors who will eventually see it, regardless of their level of knowledge of the area and its history.
With the project nearing completion, Jenness said that Triumvirate members are very pleased with how the mural has turned out.
“We wanted to give something back to everyone in this area who has given to us, from corporate and individual sponsors, to kids and other volunteers who gave time and labor. We’ve had a ton of help from this community, and a way to give back will be this beautiful building,” he said.
Triumvirate North will hold an open house, mural presentation and showing of some of Adcox’s other work from 4 to 7 p.m. June 17. For more information on the ongoing work being done at the facility, visit Triumvirate Theatre’s page on Facebook.