The mural capital of Alaska, as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin named Seward, now shares its art with its sister city, Obihiro, Japan.
Seward’s gift is a 32-foot long mural titled “Friendship Across Water” designed by Seward resident Justine Pechusal. The design features a moose on the right side bringing a chrysanthemum across the ocean to a waiting Japanese crane.
According to Dot Bardarson, Seward and Obihiro formed a sister-city relationship 40 years ago when two Seward High School students were sent to Obihiro as foreign exchange students in 1973.
“There is a lot of gift giving that goes on with sister cities, but Obihiro sent a crew over here to build an “Azumay” (Gazebo) along the bike path on the green belt overlooking Resurrection Bay,” she said, adding that Seward folks helped with the construction and it is being maintained by the student exchange program.
“This year, the city of Seward wanted to reciprocate with a major gift. The idea of a mural came up along with the idea of having some Japanese artists help to paint it there,” she said.
Bardarson said the Seward Mural Society was asked to engineer the project.
While the project was a nightmare of planning, Bardarson said the project was well worth the effort as a finished product in Obihiro’s Zoo.
“It was time for Seward to reciprocate a major gift from Obihiro from 20 years ago — A lovely tea house on the waterfront, that was also built by a joint work party,” she said.
To raise the money, area restaurants designed an item on their menu called the ‘Obihiro Special’ during the month of August. Ten percent of the price is designated for the mural project. The city of Seward funded a large portion of the project as well.
The society decided to try a small replica, a sort of dress rehearsal, of the mural earlier in the year. They invited Japanese Counsel, Koichi Funyama, to travel from his Anchorage office to see the work.
“He had so much fun painting it was hard to pull him away for the meeting with him that was so urgently needed,” she said.
The mural was mounted on the east wall of Murphy’s Inn in Seward and was dedicated with water from Resurrection Bay by the designer.
A Japanese newspaper ran a story in July about the event. It stated that even though the towns’ sizes, businesses and cultures are different and 40 years have passed, towns remain sister cities and share a secret.
“That secret is ‘spirit to do things together and have fun,’” the paper wrote.
Seven area delegates flew to Japan in August with the design in hand.
One of the delegates, Shelia Morrow, described the group’s arrival.
“An enthusiastic group of people greeted us at the airport, waving and smiling, with a welcome banner in hand,” she wrote in an email from Japan. “We were each honored with the gift of beautiful bouquets of fresh, sweetly scented flowers, many business cards were exchanged with due respect, and the first of many speeches (were) given, and dozens of photos taken.”
Another experience was the welcome party where the group was entertained by Taiko drummers, music performed on traditional instruments, Ainu dancers, and an endless presentation of Japanese dishes. The delegates were also presented with silk kimonos as gifts.
The delegates then organized the crew of selected Japanese artists, with a translator to assist. The group worked in a huge garage where they set up visqueen, tables, chairs, paint and got down to work transferring the design to the panels. The delegates and Japanese painters wore matching T-shirts.
The actual painting was done during a three-day weekend with three separate crews of Japanese artists.
On Sept. 20, the painted panels were attached to an already constructed freestanding structure and a formal dedication ceremony commenced with both Seward Mayor David Seaward and Obihiro Mayor Norihisa Yanezawa. The mural was also christened with water from Resurrection Bay.
“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the bonds of friendship were greatly strengthened by Seward’s gesture to its sister city ‘Friendship Across Water’,” Bardarson said.
Sara J. Hardan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.