This past spring the Fairhaven section of Bellingham got a new resident—a fiberglass killer whale. This female orca sculpture made her debut in March and can be seen splashing through the red bricks of a new retail building, appropriately named the Orca Building. You can spot her at 1125 Finnegan Way, just off 12th Street and next to the Fairhaven Library. The fiberglass sculpture appears in the uppermost corner of the two-story building, pursuing a handful of metal salmon swimming along the building’s face. Despite the incongruity of a marine mammal blasting through brick, the Orca Building fits in with the rest of historic Fairhaven. The building boasts a simple rectangular shape and flat roof. Architect David Christensen of Christensen Design Management designed the building with a desire to create a space “sympathetic” to the historical look of Fairhaven, while still standing out, he says.

With the blessing of building owner Neal Robinson, Christensen began to toy around with ideas for the sculpture. “I saw other buildings across the country with sculptures protruding” through walls, he says. The idea finally came together when he and Robinson were considering a name. Connecting the design to the Pacific Northwest was important to Christensen. So the Orca Building was created, and with it the idea for the sculpture. The whale was made by VFX Foam of Ferndale, a company that creates sculptures from lightweight fiberglass rather than metal. The installation process was simple and quick, Christensen said. The sculpture came in two parts and was lifted into place. The next phase was to carefully lay bricks around the orca to give the look of it crashing through the side of the building.

Now the building is a landmark for local residents and an eye-catching gallery space for Bellingham nature photographer, Peter James. James dreamed of moving into the building since he learned of the orca sculpture, he says. In August, James officially opened the Peter James Photography Gallery to the public as the first tenant in the Orca Building. The gallery is located on the second floor of the building and is home to James’s sweeping nature photographs, some up to eight feet wide, as well as a stunning view of Bellingham Bay from his studio windows.

After 15 years in his downtown Bellingham location, James is glad to be in one of Fairhaven’s newest, most notable spaces. The gallery is open seven days a week to visitors, including locals eager to check out the new space, James says. Visitors will find photos of favorite local spots like Nooksack Falls, Bellingham Bay, and Artist Point at the end of Mount Baker Highway, as well as other popular scenic areas of northwest Washington. James’s collection extends far beyond the photos showcased in the gallery. The 48 prints displayed in the Orca Building make up just a quarter of his nature photography, the rest of which can be found on his website. The connection between the orca and James’s photography couldn’t have been more perfect, he says. “I want to help connect people with nature, inspire them to be in nature, and to give back to nature.”

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1211 Mill Ave., Bellingham
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"'I want to help connect people with nature, inspire them to be in nature, and to give back to nature.'"