Valdez Founders Memorial

Memorial Design Renderings
Installation and Dedication 2023–24

Valdez Founders Memorial
City Council Presentation [John Clark & Gar LaSalle] December 21, 2021

Thank you

Mayor Scheidt and Valdez Council Members for your time this evening.

We are thrilled to make this presentation and hope that you will appreciate all the hard work that went into this design selection process and that you will approve this design so we can move forward with finding the additional funding needed.

Our design team, as listed in your agenda package, volunteered unselfishly of their personal time and openly gave their community insights that were so valuable and important to getting the Valdez founders story “right.” I personally feel indebted to them.

PVC original perspective

I will have to admit that most of The Port Valdez Company board members and shareholders had visions of two guys on horses or two guys standing on a pedestal pointing north to the gold fields overlooking Valdez Bay at the top of Meals Hill.

We quickly realized that there was more to this whole story that must be told. It was not just ONE partnership, but many “partnerships” of cooperation and human interest that rings this story true.

As stated in the Sales Agreement of Meals Hill, we did realize there was more to this story of the founding of Valdez and that “partnerships” and neighborly good behavior were keys to survival in the early days. [even today for that matter…hopefully it will never change]. Valdez story is a prime example.

These two gentlemen Hazelet and Meals were only part of the story. If you had a chance to read HAZELET’S JOURNAL or ICEBOUND EMPIRE you would also gain an appreciation for what these two gentlemen and others endured to help form this magical town we call Valdez.

Yes, the Hazelet-Meals specific “partnership” represents a significant part of Valdez’s amazing story and as important, the development of early Alaska before it became a state. Their names are laced within the fabric of the development of Alaska.

This public art statement you are about to see demonstrates how community leadership and the influence of a good working committee can reach a design solution for a public art project that has meaning and is timeless.  A special “thank you” to Nick Farline, director of Valdez Parks, Recrecreation & Cultural Services for his leadership and enthusiastic support.

My job tonight as committee co-chair is to give a quick overview and history of the process, we used to identify the artists and design team we thought could best tell the Valdez Founders Story. That being Gar LaSalle and Ion Onutan and their Classic Foundry team.

As we all know The Port Valdez Company partnered with the Great Land Trust, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Foundation (EVOS), BLM and others to make Meals Hill available at no cost to the City of Valdez other than a commitment by the City to maintain the picturesque green space. Which is not to be taken lightly.  We feel our project won’t offer any significant or additional maintenance expense other than what is currently budgeted to maintain the Meals Hill entrance.

By Sales Agreement we were able to set aside Meals Hill or 184 acres into a conservation easement not to be developed but to be enjoyed by the Community of Valdez and those curious enough from around the world to visit and enjoy for many generations to come. 

Design Process

1 – once the Sales agreement was signed, The Port Valdez Company went to work establishing a Design Selection Committee. The City was kind to give us the time and talent of Nick Farline, Valdez Director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities.  He joined me as co-chair to help identify and assemble the committee. This project could not be done without his leadership and passion for this project.

2 – Through a carefully crafted RFP with Nick’s guidance and the blessing of the City of Valdez, we let it be known to the international art world that there was going to be a public art installation in Valdez, Alaska. We posted the project with various National and Worldwide organizations such as Americans for the Arts and the Alaska State Council on the Arts and other arts organizations around the country.  We quickly found that we were overwhelmed with the response.

3 – PVC hired CodaWorx , to help manage the nearly 80 artist RFP responses.  CodaWorx is an arts agency that has a worldwide artist directory and posts public art projects seeking to commission creative talent for artwork projects that enhance and transform spaces.

With the guidance and facilitation of Lee Wilson-Hayes at CodaWorx, the Committee reviewed all 80 real responses, met through phone conversations and Zoom meetings many times to interview candidates and to pare it down to three (3) finalists.

4 – PVC put up $2500 honorarium for each of the three finalist artists chosen to travel to Valdez to meet and be interviewed face to face by the community and in return interview the community. This process allowed the artists to gather information on the community to incorporate into their individual proposals and designs. They were asked to follow the RFP criteria, which I believe each of you received back in March. but also encouraged to allow these important face to face engagements in Valdez to influence their design direction and proposals.

5 – Maggie Nylund, of Magpies on the Fly and PVC hosted the three finalist artists at a community reception at her event space where they enjoyed a gourmet dinner and a production of “That’s Valdez” on August 16 .  Brian Keith (San Ramon, CA), Matthew Geller (New York) and Gar LaSalle/Classic Foundry (Seattle, WA). All three world class artists with reputation.

For the next 2-3 days all artists were shown the various historic sites of Valdez.  They experienced the warm hospitality of the community. They also had time on their own to explore Valdez, where they were able to casually interview local citizens.

6 – October 1, we identified Gar LaSalle and the Classic Foundry as our finalist to tell the Valdez Founders Story.

Gar LaSalle & Classic Foundry

Honored widely in the medical and creative arts communities for his ingenuity and leadership, Gar LaSalle can be deemed a true renaissance man.

A retired ER doctor, he is an adjunct professor of emergency medicine, instructing a course called “The Business and Survival of Medicine” at Cornell University, Columbia University, and the University of Washington. He is an artist, writer, novelist, film producer, and sculptor in his own right.

Gar is currently serving as pre-production director for an adaptation of his historical-fiction novel, WIDOW’s WALK, which was optioned by Seattle’s own Tom Skerritt and his company Heyou Media.

WIDOW’s WALK is a story about survival in the Pacific Northwest after the Civil War. A time of high tension between indigenous Native Americans and Colonists.

There is much more to his storied career, however that should give you an idea why we are so pleased to be working with him and Ion Onutan and his Classic Foundry.

Classic Foundry is owned and operated by Ion Onutan and Gar LaSalle.  They are highly skilled experienced artisans and artists, trained in the classic tradition of sculpting and casting. They meet challenges with a collective experience of over 15 years and great passion for their craft.

This was an 8-month process March to now December 21, 2021. There is still much work to be done.  And this committee is ready to move forward.

With confirmation from City Council The Port Valdez Company will identify and hire a grant writer to help raise the $150,00 balance of our $250,000 goal as stated in the Meals Hill Sales agreement with the City of Valdez.

Bill Harris and Harris Sand & Gravel Company to donate the stones and installation of those stones.

Design Selection Committee

VALDEZ RFP Founders Memorial 03.17.21

AHS Endorsement 04.12.22 Valdez Founders Memorial