Chattanooga, Tenn. (May 24, 2019) – From the moment ground was broken for the River Journey building more than 25 years ago, the Tennessee Aquarium has been fueled by strong community support and diverse partnerships with local organizations.
Soon, the latest emblem of this lifelong synergy between the city and the Aquarium will be on display in the River Journey lobby. There, graduates from the Chattanooga Woodworking Academy have spent long nights this week installing a massive wooden mural they created to depict the Tennessee River and its aquatic inhabitants.
This piece, made of curly maple, stretches for about 45 feet along a swath of wall left purposefully bare during a renovation of the building’s lobby that began last fall. This artwork was supported by a generous grant awarded by the Lyndhurst Foundation.
“We are thrilled to be able to support the Chattanooga Woodworking Academy’s involvement in this project,” says Bruz Clark, president of the Lyndhurst Foundation. “The Foundation’s grant-making portfolio in the arts includes numerous projects that aim to connect the head, heart and hands. Through this unique partnership between the Aquarium and the Academy, we are now able to add ‘habitat’ to this list.”
The mural was crafted by woodworkers and CWA graduates Will Peebles and David “Mac” McKee, who have been working on the piece for more than six months.
“We’ve been working on this for a while,” McKee says. “I feel like the true payment will be getting it installed and getting the exposure. Once it’s up on the wall, I’ll make every excuse I can to come down here, stand in the hallway and say, ‘I put that in here.’ I think it’s going to be great.”
“I’ll be very proud to say I have a piece in the Tennessee Aquarium,” Peebles adds.
The mural is comprised of nine sections arranged in three tiers. The sections on the top and bottom represent the surface and bed of the river while a brown/blue-lacquered middle section depicts the water column and is adorned with cut-out silhouettes of swimming trout.
Peebles and McKee used pieces of live-edged wood that retain the shape of the tree from which they were cut. The mural’s lack of hard lines reflects the Aquarium’s desire for a piece with an organic feel that echoes the movement of the river flowing just behind River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings, says Manager of Exhibit Services Jeff Worley.
“We didn’t want this to be a literal representation of the river or of the Southeast but something a little more fun, a little more natural-looking,” Worley says. “This way, it’s interesting to look at but still represents the ties between the river and the Tennessee Aquarium.”