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Peonies and Murals to Brighten Pioneer Avenue

Credit Photo Courtesy of Kady Perry.
Artist Brianna Allen works on a 16-by-8-foot wooden panel that will be installed at the Lakeshore Mall.

Since May, murals have been popping up around Homer's main commercial street, Pioneer Avenue. This is thanks to the Peonies on Pioneer Mural Program. The six-week program was led by an out of state art consultant with help from Bunnell Street Arts Center, and a handful of local artists. 

Businesses are partnering with artists to highlight the local peony industry and to bring continuity to the town’s business district. Kady Perry is an art consultant from New York, who flew to Homer to help create this project. The project has already resulted in two murals along Pioneer, and volunteers are also planting hundreds of peony bulbs along the roadway.

"It's a theme because we are celebrating the industry that's here,[and] that's budding from the peony farm," Perry said.

Peony farms are a growing industry in the Homer area because the cold weather allows local farmers to harvest cut flowers, and supply them to national and international markets during a time of year when other areas can’t produce them.

Perry has been leading the six-week program, and says artists are eager to gain experience through community art projects.

“There’s kind of a demand for training for artists right now across the nation. Artists have this skill-set, and they want to continue to practice professionally, and a great way to do that is by being a mural painter," Perry said.

The artists are creating eight original murals. Some are painted straight onto the sides of buildings and others are painted onto wooden panels that will be purchased by businesses, and then permanently installed.

One of the mural projects involved redoing the Heath Street mural, which was painted by local artist, Jean Steele, 25 years ago. The old image of a seining boat was fading, so a team of artists stripped it off the wall and replaced it with multiple layers of new designs. The artists began with a colorful layer of peonies, and finished off with a detailed comic strip design that depicts a fishing story of a man going off to sea, while his wife awaits his return.

Another mural that is over 20 feet long, also has a story behind it. Desiree Hagen, a volunteer artist in the project, explained the mural as being a depiction of Sedna, the Inuit Goddess of the sea.

"She's like giant. She's like the ocean. There's a whole mythology about her. One of them is where she got her fingers cut off and all of her fingers became the marine mammals like the whales, the seals, the otters, and everything," Hagen said.

Another artist in the group, Brianna Allen, described the 16-foot-long, 8-foot-tall mural that will be permanently installed at the Lakeshore Mall.

“There were salmon and they’re sort of like, really abstract on the inside. Some were rainbow color; some were filled in with floral. So the premise was to take that concept and make it ours by putting peonies inside the salmon," Allen said.

Asia Freeman, the Executive Artistic Director for Bunnell Street Arts Center, helped Perry create the program.

"As we look forward and think about economic development, for a community like Homer, and Alaska in general, I think it’s very important to support the efforts that are being made in areas like agriculture, the arts, cultural tourism,[and] education. Homer is well poised to be a leader in our state, and that’s really exciting to me," Freeman said.

The fact that the murals will remain here for years to come, having a lasting impact on the atmosphere in the community, is a large part of Perry's motivation as a traveling artist.

"When it’s 30 degrees here, and all grey and blue in the winter, those murals are really going to add a spice of color that’s going to psychologically impact the residents as well as remind them of the great time in building and painting those murals," Perry said.

Two murals are already up on Pioneer Avenue – on a retaining wall and at a car wash. Organizers hope to see the rest installed by the end of the season.