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Revisiting Cleveland's whales after hurricane damage repair

Whale Wall

It was about three months after Hurricane Sandy blew through town when Steve Tucky, Wyland Ambassador for Ohio and the Great Lakes region, was driving along the East Shoreway and noticed that the giant whale mural to which we've all become accustomed was in the dark: the array of lights normally illuminating it had apparently been damaged by the notorious October 2012 hurricane.
 
"I'm kind of attached to it," says Tucky of the "Song of the Whales" mural, also known as a Wyland Whale Wall. Additional inspection revealed that a section of the painted panels had apparently blown off the building as well. Tucky contacted the city and Cleveland Public Power in order to get the repairs in motion.
 
It took more than two years and a notable amount of red tape, but 49 new painted panels are now in place and the lighting has been restored. Completed last fall, the work cost $50,000.
 
"They did get it fixed," says Tucky, noting that the new panels do not replicate the original artwork, but are simply painted a solid sky blue (the damaged section depicted clouds). "It kind of blends in," he says. "You don't really notice unless you really look at it."
 
As an ambassador, Tucky advocates for the Wyland Foundation, which was founded by artist and environmentalist Robert Wyland in 1993 and is dedicated to promoting, protecting, and preserving the world’s oceans, waterways, and marine life. The foundation fosters environmental awareness through education, public art, and community events. To that end, Tucky is active with campaigns and organizations such as Sustainable Cleveland 2019 and the West Creek Conservancy.
 
To be sure, most of today's Clevelanders pass by "Song of the Whales" with little knowledge of it. Hence, Fresh Water celebrates this subtle repair with the following must-know Cleveland Whale Wall facts:
 
- Cleveland Mayor Michael White dedicated Wyland's "Song of the Whales" on Oct. 6, 1997.
 
- "Song of the Whales" was one of 100 aquatic murals Wyland painted over a 27-year period.
 
- Wyland's last such mural, "Hands Across the Oceans," was dedicated in July 2008 in Beijing, China, ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
 
- Wyland painted "Song of the Whales" free hand – without the aid of any templates – inside of a few days. A basket crane provided access and volunteers helped out with paint mixing and clean up. "I was there for that," recalls Tucky.
 
- Sherwin Williams donated more than 160 gallons of paint and primer for the project.
 
- The mural measures 240- by 88-feet.
 
- Per the Oct. 4, 1997 Plain Dealer, the mural depicts, "a humpback cow, calf and 'escort' male, plus another male challenging the first for the honor of escorting the female."
 
- The original mural tour was dedicated to Jacques Cousteau and was aimed at bringing awareness to the earth's aquatic systems and their connectivity. "It all ties in," says Tucky. "The Great Lakes flow into the ocean."
 
- The green space adjacent to "Song of the Whales" is a public park complete with a walkway and benches. While it has no name, "some people fish over there," says Tucky of the space.
 
Considering approximately 24 of the Wyland Whale Wall murals are listed as "extinct" by Wikipedia, meaning they are "no longer accessible" and "may have been covered, destroyed, or significantly altered" and a handful of others are noted as tiled, partially covered or no longer visible, that the Cleveland mural endures so vividly should inflate northeast Ohioans with renewed pride the next time they pass it.
 
Moreover, the gentle giants depicted in "Song of the Whales" quietly urge us to live locally and think globally. After all, the water flowing in our delicate river and lake that we often take for granted eventually end up amid whales and dolphins and flying fish.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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