Member Spotlight: The Painted Whale

Q&A With Justine Pechuzal of The Painted Whale

It’s often said that people make the place and we couldn’t agree more. Our spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.

The Painted Whale is a specialized art company operated by local artist and art educator Justine Pechuzal. Offerings include mural tours, art classes, and art events like Paint ‘N Sips. She is also the creator of The Statehood Mural, The Whale Mural, and The Friendship Across Water Mural in Seward. In addition, Justine has worked with rural Alaskan communities making collaborative school murals.

We recently sat down with Justine to learn more about the journey she has taken as a small business owner in Seward. 

Justine Pechuzal’s mixed media artwork roves small galleries around town from The Cookery restaurant to Resurrect Art Coffee House. Photo courtesy of The Painted Whale.

Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.

In the summer of 2017, I started doing walking tours showcasing public artwork that makes Seward the “Mural Capital of Alaska”. Tours last 90 minutes and cover approximately 1.5 miles meandering between nearly a dozen murals in the historic downtown area.  Visitors learn about the cultural and historical themes presented in each mural relevant to life in Seward and Alaska (i.e. The Iditarod Trail & dog mushing, commercial fishing, the Mount Marathon Race, Kenai Fjords National Park).  Tours also educate guests about the creators of the murals, both established Alaskan artists and local Seward talent, as well as the creative and logistical process.  For visitors new to Seward it is a fun and engaging way to connect with what our community is all about.  

My favorite personal public art project was the whale mural across the street from the SeaLife Center. The image came from my kayaking experiences and inspired my company name.

Tiny artists access their inner creative during a Percent for Art mural project in Bethel, AK. Photo courtesy of The Painted Whale.

What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?

Art can often seem inaccessible, whether someone is looking at an abstract painting or drawing an animal. My goal is to help people connect with art through positive experiences in interpretation or creation.

How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?

I came to Seward in 2005 to work as a guide for Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking and have been a year-round resident since 2009 (when I got the Statehood Mural commission.)

What do you like most about living and working in Seward?

I appreciate the diverse, yet tight-knit community and amazing natural environment of Seward. Coming from the dry desert of Arizona, it’s a joy to live by the sea with so many recreational opportunities. The size of our town makes it easy to plug into activities and make things happen.

What is the best compliment your business has ever received?

Last summer, a mural tour participant said the guided mural walk was her favorite Seward activity, although she had done a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, fishing charter, and Exit Glacier visit. She said the tour was unique and personal.

Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.

I may be a little biased, but I greatly admire the path blazed by Jennifer Headtke, the Seward Mural Society founder and owner of The Ranting Raven. It is amazing that she, with the help of a dedicated group of volunteer artists, was able to take an idea and turn it into a long-term program. There are very few communities our size with the breadth and quality of our public art collection.

Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.

I never imagined myself as a business person, but have learned that if there aren’t art jobs out there, you have to make your own. Therefore, almost everything that I have done thus far in my business feels like a risk. It’s been a lot of worthwhile work, but it’s a little early in the game to know about the pay-off!

Locals’ creative spirit comes alive at the Seward Alehouse Paint ‘n’ Sip. Photo Courtesy of The Painted Whale.

 How do you spend your free time?

When not working on art, I love to play outdoors. Baking is also a fun hobby because its edible!

Where’s your favorite spot in Seward to unwind?

I find the mountains and ocean calming, or if the weather is bad, curling up with a coffee at Resurrect Art is a close second!

If your life was a book, what would the title be?

Wilderness Muse

There are so many great wilderness areas to explore around Seward and Kenai Fjords. If you had a free weekend, where would you go?

I love paddling the area near Fox Island and the Resurrection Peninsula. There are so many fantastic rock formations and the wildlife is bountiful.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share?

My biggest creation to date is arriving at the end of the summer: a baby! Adding a tiny human to the art/work/life balance will take creativity. And giving tours with a big belly should be memorable.

Feature Image: The iridescent tiles of the Seward Public Library frame Nichole Feemster’s “The Irresistible Story” during the start of a mural walking tour. Photo courtesy of The Painted Whale.

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For more information about The Painted Whale or to book a mural walking tour, click here or call 907.521.0311.

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051.