Telling Alaska’s Story: New Juneau mural honors Alaska Native civil rights icon

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 1:26 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A new mural in downtown Juneau honors Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit civil rights icon, who died in 1958.

Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl, a Tlingit and Athabascan artist, created the mural to celebrate Peratrovich, a fellow member of the Lukaax.ádi clan. It depicts an iconic image of Peratrovich with modern flourishes.

In the background are Northwest Coast formline designs of a sockeye salmon and raven from Peratrovich’s clan crest.

“And then there’s also the salmon eggs in the water beneath her,” Worl said. “That’s the next generation and looking out for the next generation.”

Her brother Rico Worl, a fellow artist and creator of the Raven Story stamp, designed the flowers on her blouse.

“It’s Athabascan floral beadwork pattern with some formline salmon jumping in and out of the flowers,” she said.

The Elizabeth Peratrovich mural was installed over a few sunny days last week in downtown...
The Elizabeth Peratrovich mural was installed over a few sunny days last week in downtown Juneau. (09/01/2021).(KTUU)

The idea for the mural was hatched three years ago, but there were challenges in finishing it. COVID-19 delayed the installation process by a year and it was difficult to get materials.

“Texas had a flood and that’s where the mural paint, the mural adhesive is manufactured and they were bottlenecked for a while,” Worl said.

And then there was the sheer scale of the work. The mural is 60 feet high and 25 feet wide.

“I’ve never worked this big before,” Worl said last Tuesday.

She enlisted the help of studio mate Logan Terry and Marcus Hines, a Philadelphia-based artist who has experience installing murals. Hines flew to Juneau to help install the panels during a few consecutive sunny days.

The panels were created offsite, a mixture of graphic design and painting directly on cloth that is expected to last at least 30 years. Each panel is 5 feet high and 5 feet wide.

“It’s the same material they use to make parachutes,” Worl said.

Glue was painted on the backside of the panels and they were carefully installed on the side of a large parking garage that overlooks the city’s cruise ship docks. The building also houses one of Juneau’s three libraries.

The mural cost around $63,000, Worl added, and was funded in part by a Rasmuson Foundation grant and the Sealaska Heritage Institute. She also received help from the community through donations.

Installing the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural in downtown Juneau. (09/01/2021.)
Installing the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural in downtown Juneau. (09/01/2021.)(KTUU)

The Peratrovich family moved away from Juneau decades ago. Elizabeth’s son Roy Pertarovich Jr. has advanced Parkinson’s disease and hearing loss and was not available for an interview.

His wife Toby Peratrovich responded by email on his behalf.

“Although we were not involved in Crystal Worl’s project of the mural of my mother, we have followed its progress closely and take great pride in this tribute to my mother,” she said.

Installing the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural in downtown Juneau. (09/01/2021.)
Installing the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural in downtown Juneau. (09/01/2021.)(KTUU)

The delays in finishing the mural coincided with greater national attention to racial discrimination and a push to remove some colonial-era statutes.

“I think it created more space and opportunity - a moment - for people of color to step up and start making public art,” Worl said.

There is a gallery in the House of Representatives named in Peratrovich’s honor. That’s where she gave an impassioned speech to territorial legislators, urging the passage of the Alaska Equal Rights Act in 1945, the first anti-discrimination bill in the country.

It criminalized discrimination based on race and aimed to end segregation against Alaska Natives.

In that era, hotels and restaurants often barred Alaska Natives and they also regularly faced discrimination in finding jobs. After the bill passed, business owners that broke the law faced a $250 fine.

Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is celebrated each year across Alaska. More recently, she has been honored by Google and by the U.S. Mint.

This mural is the first in Juneau to depict the civil rights icon. Worl hopes it inspires more public art to make the city more colorful and beautiful and aware of its Alaska Native heritage.

“I want to see more local artists represented in Juneau, in particular, Indigenous artists,” she said.

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