The Schuylkill River’s Whaling Wall
Rumor has it that a highlight of any Schuylkill cruise, the Whaling Wall may not be part of the plans for the rebuilding/reconstruction of the Market Design Center. We will miss this iconic piece created by the artist Wyland in 1993 during his 17 “Whaling Walls” in 17 cities in 17 weeks East Coast tour. Wyland was an artist, environmentalist, diver and media darling that left his mark on many cities in North America. His arrival was always well marketed and he arrived to paint with a rock-star-style tour.
Wyland called himself “the Tom Sawyer of painters” because he invited folks to help him paint his “Whaling Walls.” More a rock star than a adventurous boy, fans crushed him for autographs and it is rumored that he was especially accommodating to his female fans. Children gawked at his whale-adorned Wyland semi-tractor-trailor truck and vans that carried his entourage of volunteers, ladders and thousands of gallons of paint. Unlike many muralists Wyland drew freestyle instead of relying on a grid. “I just paint from my mind’s eye,” he said. “It’s like an out-of-body experience: I paint the whale imagining it swimming right in front of me, and I also see it as if I’m standing across the street.”
Wyland’s gigantic whale murals can be found throughout the country and around the world. In 2008, twenty-seven years after Wyland’s quest began; the artist and the Wyland Foundation completed the monumental goal of painting 100 life-size public marine murals. These murals were painted in life-size dimensions to increase appreciation and understanding for aquatic habitats and the life within. Perhaps, most importantly, they have reshaped attitudes about marine life conservation.
The Philadelphia mural measures 116 feet by 75 feet, small by Wyland standards.