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Nature and Culture in the Mural Capital of Alaska

by Anna Fogel

Seward is a town of close to 3,000 people on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Formally established in 1903, it has remained due to its location on an ice-free port and its transport connections to the rest of the state. It is known as the start of the Iditarod Trail, a stop on the Alaskan Railroad and a point of departure for the Kenai Fjords National Park, among other things.

A 2003 mural by Tom Missel on Seward's fishing industry. Source: Seward Mural Society

The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake — the strongest ever recorded in North America — left Seward’s homes and industries in shambles. Like many Alaskan towns, Seward had to almost entirely rebuild. A great deal of cultural heritage was lost, but residents have found a way of reviving and nurturing it through murals.

A 2002 mural by Jon Van Zyle on Seward's connection with the Iditarod Trail. Source: Anna Fogel

Seward's murals are highly visible, communicating the town's history to people passing by. More than a dozen adorn the walls within a few central blocks. The Seward Mural Society has been instrumental in bringing them into being since 1999. This collective of local artists and supporters volunteer their time to add life to empty walls, earning Seward a designation as Mural Capital of Alaska in 2008.

A 2007 mural by Dot Bardarson dedicated to the nearby Exit Glacier in remembrance as it recedes into the valley. Source: Seward Mural Society

Urban murals around the world reflect elements of local cultural heritage. In Seward they are especially prominent and rooted in shared identity. In a place where nature so directly enables and threatens the survival of local residents, murals serve as a form of visual storytelling that helps make sense of this relationship. They depict the wilderness and the work of Seward residents over the years, celebrating harmony over discord between the two.

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