The painting prince is at the wall and whaling away BALTIMORE CITY

August 11, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Want to experience the thrill of a rock concert without all the loud music? The Whaling Wall Tour may be just the ticket.

It has roadies. It has groupies. It has high-priced T-shirts and corporate sponsors. And, in the cherished show biz tradition of Elvis, Madonna and Cher, it features a star who needs just one name -- Wyland.

The Prince of Whales pulled into Baltimore yesterday, stop number 11 on a 17-city East Coast tour in which Wyland travels to a different city each week, paints a life-size mural and moves on.

The murals, underwritten by national and local sponsors, are not insignificant gifts to the cities. In Wyland's 19 galleries, his oil paintings sell for $6,000 to $25,000. One sold for $450,000. His works have been collected by the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Robert Redford and Tom Selleck. And by Debbie Wolford of Hagerstown, who became a Wyland fan after she saw him pitching his wares on QVC, a cable shopping channel.

"I can die happy now," Mrs. Wolford said yesterday, after Wyland signed her T-shirt and a copy of his book, available for $39.95.

Mrs. Wolford already had a book. Still, she picked up a few more items while visiting the Lee Electric building at the northwest corner of Hamburg and Russell streets, the site of Baltimore's Wyland mural.

The wares included mugs ($10), tour pins ($7), canvas bags ($25) and, of course, T-shirts ($19.50 or $22.50). Those who wanted to max out their credit cards could visit the gallery, where Wyland's work sold for up to $950.

Marlene Crook, of Ocean City, drove to Baltimore just to have Wyland sign some of his posters. But she was disappointed that the mural was in its beginning stages.

"I'll guess I'll have to come back," she said. "Maybe I can get back on Saturday."

Others also expressed surprise that the mural wasn't near completion. They should be glad that Wyland doesn't work at the same pace as one of his favorite artists, Michelangelo, who needed almost five years to complete the Sistine Chapel.

Baltimorean Estelle Hayden fell in love with Wyland's work in Hawaii, where he lives, and worked to bring him to her hometown. But the one-time custom-van painter from Detroit painted his first mural in Laguna Beach, Calif., in 1981.

His work now includes a mural at the Long Beach (Calif.) Convention Center, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest, as well as one at Biosphere 2, the experimental enclosed environment near Oracle, Ariz.

By 2011, he plans to have painted 100 whale murals.

Toward that end, the Whaling Tour follows a grueling schedule each week. Begin painting Tuesday, finish Sunday, dedicate Monday, move on. The 13-member "Wyland Team," his paid staff, sometimes refer to the first two weekdays as "Muesday" because the 48 hours are a blur.

Volunteer Mary Anagnostopoulos, a 26-year-old graduate student in biology, first watched Wyland work in Philadelphia, near her hometown of Lansdowne, Pa. Baltimore marked her fifth stop on the tour, but it will be out of her reach when it moves on to Norfolk, Va., next week.

"I love the work," said Ms. Anagnostopoulos, who has put in 10-hour days. "I first saw it in Hawaii and said, 'I've got to see this.' And Wyland is very down to earth, very approachable."

Wyland did take time out for the fans who wanted to talk to him yesterday as he took short breaks, staring at a wall that was, in the first few hours, merely shades of blue and white. But by week's end, it will feature Atlantic gray whales, long extinct.

"I start with the water," Wyland explained at one point, "then the marine life literally swims out of the wall."

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