Monday, March 20, 2023

Wyland, the Marine Michaelangelo, Returns to New London to Re-Paint the Whaling Wall

Ribbon cutting, Whaling Wall in Dallas. Next to Wyland
on the scaffold Herschel Walker did the honors.

For several decades beginning in the early 19th century, New London, Connecticut was one of the three busiest whaling ports in the world, along with Nantucket and New Bedford, Mass. The wealth that whaling brought into the city furnished the capital to fund much of the city's present architecture. Times change, but the city maintains its moniker as "The Whaling City."

30 years ago New London hired world famous muralist Wyland to create a massive whale mural near the ferry. Wyland is an important whale muralist because of his significant contributions to marine conservation awareness and education through his art. He is known for his large-scale, lifelike depictions of whales and other marine life on the sides of buildings and other public spaces and has painted whale murals all around the world. 

Because of graffiti and deterioration, he was asked to return and restore the New London mural to its original beauty.

Wyland withTaj Mahal at Jazzfest. Taj is a member
of Wyland's Blues Planet band.
Wyland's murals and his work as a conservationist draw attention to the beauty and importance of the oceans and the need for their protection. His art has inspired people to care more about the environment and take action to protect marine life and their habitats. He has also created educational programs and events that promote marine conservation and environmental awareness.

Having been introduced to his work via photographer Gary Firstenberg, I've since followed his activities and shared some of his story. Today I caught up with Wyland to discuss his current activities.

When I asked which came first, the interest in art or the whales, Wyland replied, "I have been an artist since I was four. I was inspired by the ocean and Jacques Cousteau ... He was such a hero for me, a big inspiration."  

Wyland's interest in the sea led him to take up scuba diving. "I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau," he said, but as an artist he created his own path. During the pandemic he was honored for his marine work became the 10th person in the world to receive the Legend of the Sea Award, joining other heroes of his including Cousteau and Lloyd Bridges. Wyland is also the youngest member of the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame.

Franco Harris with the artist Wyland.
Wyland painted his first mural in Laguna Beach in 1981. "I had only planned to do one. When a writer asked 'How many are you going to paint?' I said I was going to paint 100." And he kept his word, though actually he's painted 101...whale and marine life murals, "the last one with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam." 

When asked if he has a favorite, Wyland said, "Every single wall had a story. It wasn't about the artist but how people came together to produce some of the largest artworks in history. It's very fulfilling turning a blank wall into public art." 

He pointed out how the Wynwood Walls in Miami transformed ugly warehouse buildings into an inspirational public art district.

"One of my first murals was on the Golden Bear a nightclub. I was hitting the walls before they actually called it street art. Street art has had a big impact on me. Art is very powerful.... Art and music, the most powerful things on earth."

In addition to painting and scuba diving, Wyland is also quite the entrepreneur. At one point he had 57 galleries, his first opening in 1978. That's 45 years in the business. More important for Wyland is the foundation he's founded and funded. The Wyland Foundation is dedicated to promoting, protecting and preserving the world's oceans, waterways and marine life. The foundation encourages environmental awareness through education programs, public arts projects and community events.

Wyland's work has earned him numerous awards and honors, including being designated a United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador and receiving the Rolex Award for Enterprise. His art has also been featured in numerous publications and media outlets, including National Geographic and The New York Times.

The New London Mural is located near the ferry and the Thames Oyster House. It was originally painted by Wyland in 1993, the 41st of his 101 whale murals. By 2006, it had deteriorated quite a bit (fading and peeling and some graffiti. According to a UK Daily News story, a New London Restoration Committee, with the goal of restoring the mural to its original beauty. The first muralist who was brought in to restore and touch up the mural focused on keeping the original beauty intact. When he turned 72 and could no longer climb four levels of scaffolding another artist was brought in. The colors used for the whales did not go well with the original. Wyland is coming back to do a truer restoration.

For more on Wyland and his foundation, visit

Photography by Gary Firstenberg

The moniker Marine Michaelangelo was coined by USA Today

Related Links

Murals in the St. Petersburg Warehouse District
Scott Murphy's Delightful Duluth Story Mural
Community Mural Underway in Lincoln Park District

Largest mural East of the Mississippi.
Largest American flag in the world.

Sittin' on the dock on the bay... waiting for his next adventure.

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