The South Florida Fairgrounds bustled with activity on Jan. 16. Just wending one’s way past all the diversions, happy kids, and struggling parents who were hoping to keep them from taking every ride in sight and eating every temptation was not an easy task.
Amid all the fun, Wyland came with a blank 50-foot canvas, buckets of paint, cartons of brushes, and a host of young people ready to get to work.
Wyland’s clothes were paint-stained, his baggy jeans covered with bright yellow and blue, and his shirt displayed a mix of color stains. The Wyland baseball cap, his signature, was somewhat awry as he climbed up and down the ladder putting touches here and there on the 50-foot mural.
Nothing slowed Wyland’s speed or enthusiasm as he worked the large canvas into shape so that the kids, gathered for the occasion, could begin painting.
“The kids paint in five minutes—five Hawaiian minutes. Your parents will tell you what a Hawaiian minute is. …” Wyland was having fun. He was doing what he loves to do: inspiring young people to paint with a purpose.
Timothy, 6 years old, from West Palm Beach and a student at Western Academy Charter School, was painting a fish. “I want to become a famous painter,“ Timothy said.
“That is a beautiful queen angel fish. Give Timothy a big hand,“ Wyland says while he passes over, under, and often through the line of kids working away in smocks on the canvas.
The five long Hawaiian minutes passed, and the canvas became animated as young people began their work.
“We have smaller brushes for smaller kids. We have all kinds of brushes. One kid got hold of my roller and rolled over the whole painting. Hey, hook her up with a bigger brush!” Wyland jokes.
He is always in good humor. His enthusiasm is contagious. When at work on a mural, he is always in motion. He uses a roller for the larger relief and soppy paintbrushes, dripping vivid colors, for details.
It wasn’t immediately evident what Wyland was doing. Up and down the ladder he went, and eventually his tiger shark began to take shape.
“Let’s get a group photo,“ Wyland finally exclaimed. He is accompanied by a photographer, a video maker, and others who work for him to document his undertakings. He got the photo organized with the kids holding up their brushes or paint-stained thumbs and then got right in the middle.
“One, two, three—shout ‘Save the Ocean’!” The group and their gathered parents shouted and clicked pictures.
Millions have seen Wyland’s “Whaling Walls.” Around the planet, his art has touched the lives of people. “My goal was to paint a hundred Whaling Walls,” Wyland says.
“My dream was to paint the final wall during the Olympics in Beijing. I wanted to paint it on the Great Wall of China, but they said no, it is sacred. So we painted on a mile of canvas,” Wyland said.
Paintbrush in hand, 9-year-old Lilly from the Imagine School in Vero Beach tells why she went to China with Wyland to paint on his last Whaling Wall, in 2008: “This is important. This is for ocean conservation. We want to spread the word and save our planet.”
“The last wall was about me wanting to pass on my inspiration to the next generation. The young artists painted salt [water] and freshwater scenes. It was awesome. We began a Youth Ambassador Program for the planet,” Wyland continued.
Guy, a 15-year-old from Key Largo, Florida, and sophomore at Coral Shores High School, was painting the outline of a marine turtle in one corner of the canvas.
Like Lilly, Guy is one of the Wyland Youth Ambassadors. He too went to China to work on the 100th wall. When asked what he wanted to do in the future, Guy replied: “I will continue to pursue my art. I’m going into the field of marine biology and oceanography. I really have an interest in the oceans not just art.”
“Wyland never teaches me. He lets me find my own way, lets me shape my own art. He is my mentor. I look to him and learn,” Guy continued.
Wyland is engaging people everywhere to become involved, to become aware, and to become concerned about the fate of our planet, “Planet Ocean.” His dynamic presence inspires, cajoles, persuades, and tickles the funny bone. He is a diver and underwater photographer who sought a larger canvas for his work—telling a whale of a tail.
John Christopher Fine, who has a doctorate in divinity, has investigated toxic waste contamination of aquifers and water resources. He is the author of 24 books and writes extensively about his work in the ocean environment.