According to a Dena'ina story, Caribou once had fangs and no sense of smell.
One day, when he tried to attack cranberry-gathering Raven, his fangs fell out. After that, Raven asked Caribou why he couldn't smell. Caribou didn't know. Raven twisted up some birch bark and stuffed it in Caribou's nose. From then on, Caribou could pick up on scents.
"It's a very Dena'ina story," said Inupiaq artist Holly Nordlum. "It doesn't always make sense, but it kind of explains how things can change quickly and has a little mystery."
Nordlum depicts the tale in white, black and gray on a 12-foot, 6-inch by 28-foot, 4 ¾-inch perforated metal panel above the Loussac Library book drop. It's one of three new public works of art adorning the interior and exterior of the renovated library.
The artist was determined to pay visual tribute to the Dena'ina when she was selected to design the panel.
"What makes Anchorage really special is that the Denai'na people have been here for 10,000 years," Nordlum said. "We need to celebrate that."
More of the story will be told on a 21-foot by 21-foot panel also designed by Nordlum, which will soon be installed at the library entrance. Nordlum provided the design and the panels are fabricated by Dry Design and installed by Pinnacle AK contractors. The works were funded by the 1 Percent for Art public art program, and the artists were selected by a jury of nine.
Enzina Marrari, curator of public art for the Municipality of Anchorage, said the overarching theme presented in the call to artists was the concept of a portal to a new world, culture or idea.
"Something that was really important to this jury was having Alaska Native representation," Marrari said. "Holly's (design) stood out because it not only presented this strong graphic image, but it told a story about the land and the culture."
Rounding out the trio of public artworks are a gigantic hanging sculpture in the atrium called "The Portal of Perception" by Portland's Manifestation PDX Art Collective and a mural on the entrance to the Kids' Zone by local artist Owen Tucker.
Marrari said the budget for all the library public art projects was $104,500: $73,000 for "Portal of Perception" and $24,000 for the Kids' Zone mural (including those projects' design, fabrication and installation) and $7,500 for Nordlum's work creating the graphic image design for the perforated panels.
Tucker's mural is a primary-color mashup of art and science featuring a cyborg owl and geometric shapes reminiscent of building blocks.
The porthole on the entrance's short "fairy door" inspired Tucker.
"I naturally saw it as an eye and decided an owl would be good fit not only for the shape of the eye, but the meaning of the owl — the connection with knowledge," Tucker said.
The flip side of the owl inside the entryway reveals the bird as a robot filled with cords and circuitry. Tucker said the owl's inner workings are a statement about the growing role of libraries as learning centers for science and technology, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
"The jury loved the tie of the natural world and the technological world and the concept of the eye of the owl acting as the portal," Marrari said.