“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature …” ― Rachel Carson
Public art’s capacity to honor the repeated refrains of nature and to forge innovative community spirit figures heavily in Shepherd University’s new, large-scale mural. The work, transforming the Duke Street underpass, stemmed from a conversation just over a year ago between University President, Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, and Professor of Art, Sonya Evanisko, who was named West Virginia Professor of the Year in 2016.
Several campus student groups had talked about enhancing the underpass, but the scale of the endeavor, and required skill sets, meant a professional plan had to be developed. A task like this can easily run in excess of $100K in urban spaces. Shepherd did it on a shoestring, thanks to the tireless contributions of Evanisko and her team—designers Josh Hawkins (BFA 2012) and Fernando Velez (BFA candidate 2018), student artists Katelyn Wyant, Rachael Dutko, Kaleb Aurand, Kayley Kemp, and others—as well as Shepherd’s Director of Facilities, Eric Shuler.
From the start, the artists ruled out elements of design that would make the space feel closed or static. Instead, they wanted to create an experience that married style to function.
“It’s a space you traverse,” said Evanisko. “It’s not stationary, like many wall murals or gallery paintings that you’re meant to stand in front of and consider. Rather, you’re moving through a unique, three-dimensional space, so the design needed to complement this in every way—to respect movement, air, and changing values of light.”
They determined that a high design ethic, more aesthetically-oriented, more abstract, focused on flow and layered color would serve best. And, while they kept the emphasis on movement, Evanisko stressed that “… people really do enjoy subject matter in art,” so the team gave much thought to synthesizing the strengths of West Virginia, the civic-minded values of the University, and the progressive views of Shepherdstown.
It shows. There’s a celebration of the state’s natural wonders—with rolling mountains, running rivers, silhouetted forests, and grand expressions of the state flower, the rhododendron, punctuated by vistas of wind turbines—technology to conserve nature rather than cut it away.
Perhaps the most compelling element in the mural’s visual story is a local one: the chimney swift. Wintering in the western Amazon, the swift migrates to North America and communally roosts once fledglings have emerged. When Shepherd’s Sara Cree Hall and its swift-favored chimney were slated for demolition, the town and university came together to give the birds alternative dwellings. The Potomac Valley Audubon Society has even begun building a freestanding chimney feature for the swifts on west campus.
Swifts are prominent in the mural, underscoring the community’s environmental sensitivity. Suggestions of their superb aerials surround you as you traverse the underpass.
Shepherd University’s newest piece of public art celebrates West Virginia and unites the institution with the local community, all the while improving campus walkability. When you get the chance, take a stroll, and experience its appeal for yourself.
— Submitted by Racquel YerburyBy Staff Contributor