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A Mountain Perspective

The Mount's Own Masterpiece

Katelyn Phelan

One of the scars on the otherwise beautiful Mount campus is the tunnel that runs beneath Route 15. This dingy, wet, cement tunnel is used frequently by athletes going to the practice fields, freshmen and sophomores going to their cars, or any student or faculty member going to use the gym. Parents and prospective students also use this tunnel at times. As the tunnel is, well, drab and boring, a professor and group of students developed a plan to spruce it up.

In the spring of 2008, Fine Arts Professor Elizabeth Holtry held a mural painting class. The goal of this class was to design and create a mural spanning nearly 50 feet to adorn the cement tunnel wall. This ambitious undertaking took an immense amount of time, talent, and effort.

The first hurdle to clear was to decide how to go about painting a mural in the tunnel. Since the class was in the spring semester, work would begin in January. Carting tubes of paints, brushes, water, and paper towels down to the tunnel to paint outside in the freezing January weather was a less than pleasant prospect. So, instead, students decided to paint the mural on six portable 5 by 8 foot wooden panels in a comfortable and warm studio. After the project was completed, the panels would be transported to the tunnel and drilled into the wall.

Next, Professor Holtry decided to use acrylic paints for convenience and cost. Acrylics are water based (as opposed to oil paint) and so they dry much faster. Since they dry faster, the artist does not have to worry about smearing wet areas. However, it is a HUGE annoyance to repeatedly mix a color because it keeps drying on the palate. If a color needs constant remixing so there is enough to cover a large area, there are often inconsistencies. Some areas are lighter or darker because it is nearly impossible to match the previous "batch" exactly. Nonetheless, acrylics helped the process go faster, which was important.

With these details settled, the next major decision was subject matter. The goal was to create a mural that represented the Mount, but how exactly does one go about that? The students brainstormed some ideas, but in order to do the best possible job, students interviewed their peers, professors, and administrators. Ideas flooded in, though of course they were all different. In the end, the main topics chosen included (from left to right): academics, theater, music, fine art, spirituality, service, and sports.

Still, questions remained. How should the mural as a whole fit together? What details should be included in each category and panel? How should spirituality be shown? After many compromises, a plan was drawn on paper and approved. The painting began.

The academics panel is the first, and it posed some challenges. It is one of the most abstract categories, along with spirituality. Students needed creativity in their attempt to represent every academic subject. For example, how does one represent foreign language? They solved this problem by using different languages to say "to learn." Additionally, this panel features students conversing with each other over an open copy of Aristotle's On Rhetoric. Other books are scattered about the panel, opened to reveal two pages. One book shows da Vinci's Last Supper and a detail of Raphael's School of Athens. There is also an open book for history. These pages focus on The French Revolution, an event chosen because of its connection to the Mount's founder, Father John DuBois, who fled from France to Emmitsburg, because Catholics were being persecuted.

Closely tied to academics is theater. Yellow-green and blue dominate both the academic and theater areas, helping to create a sense of flow. The theater portion shows two Shakespearean scenes: Romeo woos Juliet in the balcony scene, and Hamlet gives a soliloquy while speaking to a skull, while Ophelia is drenched in water in the background.

The music and arts area is next. This section has a treble cleft, music notes, two girls singing, and piano keys. The arts section shows a studio with a variety of artists. Many pieces in the "studio" are real pieces Mount artists have painted. An Art Education major's self-portrait adorns the wall and a senior's major project depicting a scene with figures hangs in the back of the "studio."

Following the arts section is spirituality. This area divides the mural in half and was simply designed. This simplicity gives the viewer's eye a place to "rest" from the detail of other sections. Spirituality features a large stained-glass rose window with large bands of solid colors emanating from it. This spirituality section includes many religions, not just Christianity. Religions like Judaism and Buddhism are included in the stained glass portion.

To the right of spirituality is the service section. One area shows students building homes for Habitat for Humanity. A large pocket-watch dangles from the top of the panel. It is noticeably missing hands, but this is purposeful. It represents "God's time" which is something emphasized on different retreats. The idea is to distance oneself from the cares of everyday life, including keeping track of time and sticking to a schedule. The service section also shows missionary work, money donation, and races for cures.

Finally, the last section is sports. Here, a boy is hitting a tennis ball, which turns into a variety of other sports balls before ending with a basketball. The representation of different balls all in a line helps lead the viewer's eye across the panel and also brings many different sports into the panel. In addition to the sports balls, scenes of hockey, swimming, and equestrian are shown. A pre-game huddle shows a seminarian leading a group of soccer players in prayer.

A remarkable amount of detail is included in this mural. Far too much to describe in an article of this length. Plus, there's nothing like seeing it first-hand. A great deal of time and effort went into the creation of the mural. From planning, designing, and painting, it's no wonder the ambitious plan was not finished after just three months. It has slowly come to completion over the past year and a half through volunteer efforts and the completed project is the result of the hard work and dedication of many talented artists. The mural will hopefully grace the wall of the tunnel by the end of this semester where it will be enjoyed for years to come.

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan