A Tale of 2½ Whales:
Stenciled artwork, polished concrete enliven whale conservation headquarters

An application of custom-made stencils in the shapes of a humpback whale on concrete
When Ocean Alliance reached out to Reliance Concrete Polishing for a quote to refurbish floors, the whale conservation organization didn’t get an estimate. Instead, Reliance donated its services and suggested that the alliance work with Floormaps to include custom stencils of whales on the soon-to-be polished concrete floors. Photo courtesy of Reliance Concrete Polishing

When Ocean Alliance Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to whale conservation, bought an old paint factory in Gloucester, Massachusetts, it began renovating the site’s copper mill for its headquarters. The old mill, where Tarr & Wonson Paint Manufactory made its revolutionary boat-bottom paint during the 19th century, was legendary. For many years, it was the only factory in America that made copper paint to coat the hulls of ships.

During the renovation, Ocean Alliance explored its options of redoing the floors of this iconic maritime heritage. “We got a quote for vinyl floors which we thought would be affordable. However, even it was pricey,” says Alicia Pensarosa, assistant director of Ocean Alliance. “And it wasn’t an ideal surface.”

Concrete perpetuates a special vision

While surfing the web looking for other things, Ocean Alliance’s CEO, Iain Kerr, visited a drone site where he saw a display ad promoting Reliance Concrete Polishing. He asked Pensarosa to check out the company based in Exeter, New Hampshire.

“A quick phone call for an estimate led us to a wonderful whale-loving team at Reliance Concrete Polishing. They offered to donate their services!” says Pensarosa. Turns out charitable work and the stewardship of resources are very important to the owner, Brent Morgan, and his wife, Deb.

What impressed Pensarosa even more was that they went above and beyond anything Ocean Alliance had imagined. “They had a creative vision for the space,” she says. “They made it much more special than just a stained and polished concrete floor.”

An aerial view of the Whale Conservatory where custom-made stencils were installed
The former Tarr & Wonson Paint Manufactory site, situated at the entrance of Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts, has guided area fishermen home for more than 150 years. It now serves as headquarters for Ocean Alliance, an organization dedicated to whale conservation through research and education. Photo courtesy of Chris Zadra, Ocean Alliance
Include the whales visually

As for the quickly formed relationship, “We just hit it off and decided to help them,” Brent Morgan says. He and his crew could polish the existing old concrete in the building, no problem. But to make the floors a real draw, he suggested they work with Floormaps. The stencil manufacturer, based in Rogers, Arkansas, could create whale art for the floor. Plus, one of its custom stain experts could make that vision spring to life.

Pensarosa worked with Floormaps’ co-owner Kathren Knigge to come up with a humpback whale design for the second floor. “The humpback is iconic. It’s one of the most well-known species in New England,” Pensarosa says about the whale installed first. “It’s very charismatic.”

laying out the stencils for the concrete floor
Floormaps provided custom stencils so a humpback whale could be a standout in Ocean Alliance’s soon-to-be whale library. Photo courtesy of Andrew Clark, Explorer.Dream.Discover

The right whale stencil, designed from video footage of a mother and her calf, greets visitors on the first floor. Although not part of the original plan, the duo grabs most everyone’s attention and starts conversations about conservation. “The North Atlantic population is critically endangered,” Pensarosa says.

“Both stencils are pretty amazing,” she says. While both the floors and whales are stained, the treatment brings out concrete’s natural characteristics. “The floor makes the space look more modern while reflecting our ocean conservation efforts.”

Overall, she continues, “Not only do the floors look amazing, but they are also environmentally friendly, resilient and easy to clean.”

Using the custom-made stencils to create whales using black dye
Custom stencils by Floormaps create a welcoming image of a right whale mother and her calf near the first-floor entrance. Photo courtesy of Reliance Concrete Polishing
Old concrete adds character

Morgan says the project’s biggest challenge involved dealing with the 150-plus-year-old concrete in the old copper paint factory. “We had to get a bunch of environmental things taken care of,” he says.

However, the vintage concrete’s stains and cracks worked to their benefit. “They add character and make the whales look real,” he says, especially the humpback. Whales in the wild are not pristine creatures, Morgan explains. They have barnacles and things growing on them, as well as scrapes here and there from life’s encounters.

Concrete floor with a stenciled whale by Floormaps
Whale watchers love the humpback whale, one of the most well-known species in New England. Ocean Alliance founder, Dr Roger Payne, discovered males sing complex songs that last 10-20 minutes. Humpbacks are also known for breaching and other distinctive surface behaviors. Photo courtesy of Andrew Clark, Explorer.Dream.Discover

To polish the floors, Morgan says they started with 30-grit metal-bond diamonds, followed by 100-grit metals. Then they moved on to 100 and 200 resins before laying down the decal and the color. After the color of the whale was down, they made a pass with 200-400 resin diamonds.

Next, the crew applied Prosoco LS Densifier before running three-steps of resin diamonds. Finally, they applied Prosoco LSGuard and burnished.

While Morgan says he and his crew were all part of the custom stencils’ installation process, “Eugene was the one who made things turn out so well.”

Artist works wonders

Eugene Ortiz, a contract artist who’s worked with Floormaps since 2008, met with Morgan and Kerr to devise a plan. Kerr wanted the coloring to look “organic.”

“Usually I’d spray the dye but this time I applied it with a microfiber rag,” Ortiz says. “I dipped it into the dye and hand-wiped it so it has very subtle brush strokes.”

Closer view of a whale as if it is turning a corner on the concrete floor
In days of yore, whalers named right whales because they were the “right whale to hunt.” Above all, their bodies stayed near the surface and floated when dead. The Ocean Alliance has the longest continuous study of Southern right whales in Patagonia, Argentina. The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered. Photo courtesy of Andrew Clark, Explorer.Dream.Discover

For the humpback, he used a powdered acetone dye in Black and Slate Blue from the Ameripolish Classic line. “I used mostly Black and added a couple of shakes of Slate Blue to give it a blue tint,” he says.

For the right whale and calf, Ortiz used a combination of Black and Ocean Blue dye from Prosoco’s GemTone stain line. He found wiping in the color physically challenging, especially for the mother whale. “She was just so big,” he says.

When hand-wiping, he says he creates movement by following the whale’s contour and making the strokes in the same direction.

stenciled artwork in the shape of a whale on a blue dyed concrete floor
Floormaps artisan Eugene Ortiz and the Reliance Concrete Polishing crew applied colors in two coats and a partial third to make the ocean appear to have peaks and valleys. Ortiz also did a light overspray of color atop the custom stencils to create the illusion of whales underwater. Photo courtesy of Andrew Clark, Explorer.Dream.Discover
For a realistic touch

Overall, Ortiz says he’s particularly proud of the way the ocean colors turned out. Upstairs, he used a mixture of Ameripolish Classic Turquoise and Forest Green. Downstairs, he mixed the Turquoise and a little Forest Green with Prosoco GemTone Emerald and Ocean Blue.

He applied two coats and a partial third with a hand-pumped sprayer to create light and dark spots to replicate peaks and valleys. “This gives the water realistic movement,” he says.

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