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Concrete Canvas: The art department transforms a graffiti-riddled wall at the back entrance to campus into a work of art

Concrete Canvas: The art department transforms a graffiti-riddled wall at the back entrance to campus into a work of art

By Jennifer Meers Jones ’08

Every morning, Senior Vice President for Administration and Chief Operating Officer Steve Theodore drives onto campus using the rear entrance directly below the Loop 121 overpass. While the university’s front entrance cheerfully welcomes visitors with an abundance of purple banners, colorful flowers, and an impressive stone sign, the rear entrance offered little more than an empty concrete expanse of wall below an overpass.

This first glimpse of campus was ho-hum at best, but at times the wall was marked with graffiti—not exactly a first impression that was fitting for the beautiful UMHB campus you were approaching.

Theodore began thinking that it would be nice to have something that represented the university at this highly trafficked rear entrance. And now, one year later, Theodore’s idea is a reality. What was once a dull, empty, grey expanse filled with vandalizers’ off-color tags is now a vibrant work of art, beckoning visitors to campus with a vibrant portrayal of university landmarks and symbols.

Hershall Seals, professor and chair of the art department, oversaw a team of approximately 20 art students to create a vibrant mural featuring the Luther arches, the chapel, the Crusader mascot, and the UMHB letters. Seals was immediately identified by Theodore as the man for the job because he has led students in similar projects including the designing, painting, and restoring of the Belton Lake mural in the summer of 2000.

Breaking it down: Paint by numbers
20: faculty and students worked on the mural
7: gallons of paint used
7: drafts produced before settling on the final concept
13’x40′: the mural dimensions
70: man-hours worked to complete the mural

Before the first paintbrush could touch the wall, though, the university had to request permission from the state, since Loop 121 is a state highway. Theodore presented the idea to officials from the City of Belton, who responded enthusiastically to the idea and helped the university obtain the required permission from the state to alter the wall.

In the fall, Seals enlisted the help of his figure drawing class to brainstorm ideas for the mural’s basic theme.

“We felt it was important to incorporate immediately recognizable UMHB imagery like the Luther arches and the Independence ruins with a bright, sunny background. We wanted this to be a cheerful greeting as you entered the campus, while also acknowledging the school’s heritage and traditions,” Seals said.

Once the class sketched out the basic elements included in the mural, junior art major Joanne Cervantes used watercolors to paint a draft based on that sketch. After using Photoshop to create a few alterations of the draft (for example, one version did not include the Crusader mascot; another changed the placement of the university landmarks), they began seeking feedback from students, faculty, and administration.
Seals said they incorporated the feedback into the final draft.

“Our first design looked to some like it was too feminine or too sweet and flowery. We made the letters thicker and bolder and intensified the color scheme to balance out the femininity of the flowers, which seemed to help,” he said.

Once the final concept was nailed down, a team of students battled the blistering winter cold to begin the mural. The group started by drawing a grid to help them translate their final draft proportionately onto the 13’x40’ wall. After the design was sketched onto the wall, the painting began. Students worked on the final touches over the summer, and the mural was completed in July.

Cervantes said she has received a lot of response from the community.

“We’ve heard many positive comments about how this mural brightens the area. Everyone talks about what a happy, colorful addition it is to the back of campus,” she said.

Theodore said he enjoys seeing the mural every morning as he drives into the campus.

“The primary goal of the mural was to create a beautiful entrance to the campus, and I believe Mr. Seals and our art students truly accomplished that goal,” Theodore said. “The mural is creative, intriguing, imaginative, and something we are proud to display. It is yet another example of UMHB’s extraordinary faculty and innovative students.”

For Cervantes and the other students who worked on the mural, it is exciting to know their work will leave a lasting mark.

“I think it really changes the face of campus,” Cervantes said. “There are so many exciting changes going on right now at UMHB; it’s really inspiring to be a small part of those changes. It is cool to know that something we are creating now will be enjoyed by students and the community for many years to come.”

Behind the scenes: the making of a mural photo timeline