A Mat-Su Valley artist calls it one of the most challenging pieces of his career. John Coyne is sculpting a life-size family of orcas breaching in water and casting them in bronze.

Coyne calls the piece "Pod" and says he was inspired by a year spent living on Sisters Island in Southeast Alaska as a child.

"It was right in the middle of a humpback whale migration path," said Coyne. "And the orca would come around and it left an indelible impression on me watching the orca breach."                                                                             

Coyne is creating the sculpture as part of Alaska's 1 percent for Art Program, a state program that mandates 1 percent of the construction costs of public buildings be set aside for art installations.

In this case, the piece will sit on a grassy courtyard in front of the Douglas Island Building in Southeast Alaska.

Coyne said the work has been challenging for several reasons, including its size. It's the largest three-dimensional sculpture he's ever produced -- and certainly the heaviest. When completed, the three whales will weigh about 2,300 pounds.

Coyne said the piece also involves lots of handwork. Every whale consists of dozens of poured bronze plates that are welded together to form a whole. It's taken more than a year to get the pieces cast and welded and Coyne is still working on grinding and smoothing the metal surface so the seams become invisible.

Coyne hopes to have the sculpture finished by the end of September. He said it's likely it will be transported at least part of the way on the Alaska State Ferry system to its new home on Douglas Island.

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