Mural paints new perspective

Featured Image: The mural represents VWU love and replaces “Selfie,” a mural that featured Bob Marley, Mahatma Gandhi, Marilyn Monroe,
Martin Luther King Jr. and Frida Kahlo near the Grille in the Jane P. Batten Student Center. Carley Tantlinger | Marlin Chronicle 

Students enrolled in the Public Art course during January Term replaced the “Selfie” mural in the Jane P. Batten Student Center with colorful hands depicting VWU.

A new mural depicting hands forming “VWU” and a heart replaced the “Selfie” mural in the Jane P. Batten Student Center’s Harbor Grille towards the end of January Term. 

The new mural was designed by freshman Sarah Richards and painted by VWU students who took Professor of Art John Rudel’s Public Art course over J-Term. However, the change, especially with little forewarning, upset some students.

“I wanted to focus on this sense of coming together, with the VWU love and especially the symbol of the heart,” Richards said. Richards plans to major in psychology and is considering studying art as well. She said the mural was designed to show Virginia Wesleyan’s sense of community and the fact that everyone is welcome here.

The new mural shows hands, painted in different colors of the rainbow, forming the letters V, W and U, followed by two hands forming a heart. The V and W are in American sign language, while the U is formed with the thumb and forefinger held in parallel some distance apart.

The replaced mural, titled “Selfie,” was an image of five important historical figures taking a selfie on a phone that had a pear on the back. It was designed by Caitlyn Hogge, a VWU student who graduated in 2017, and featured Bob Marley, Mahatma Gandhi, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frida Kahlo.

“The change was made with sub-optimal planning and little to no foresight,” junior Matty Taylor said. He said that the old mural was a highlight feature of the Batten Student Center.

Taylor said that the decision was made without considering the impact it would have on students. Also, he noted that the sign was not correct sign language. He said this was another reason he thought there was a lack of consideration in the repainting of the wall.

“Selfie,” designed by Caitlyn Hogge ’17, was located in the Grille and replaced in
2023 by the new mural that represents VWU love. Anthony Dellamura | Marlin Chronicle

Richards said the mural was inspired by a source image from the Baltimore Love Project. The Baltimore Love Project featured hands spelling out love in 20 murals across Baltimore, forming letters naturally, not in sign language. She said that the hands in the artwork are modeled from the hands of Virginia Wesleyan students.

Rudel, who teaches the course, said that the Grille wall is not repainted on a schedule. The old mural was painted in 2016 by the Public Art class at the time. When it was painted, there were plans to either repaint it or find a different spot for a new mural.

Rudel said that the Grille wall is part of the daily life of students, which is part of why the mural was placed there.

“This image is intended to signify a sense of community. The hands are posed into the shapes of V, W, U and a heart to represent VWU love,” Rudel said.

To some students, though, the mural is underwhelming or unclear in the message it sends. Caleb Smith, a senior, said that the old mural had a lot of meaning but that the new one forwent a lot of that for a message about loving VWU.

“I create art to make an impact, whether big or small,” Caitlyn Hogge, who designed “Selfie,” said, according to the descriptive sign in the Grille. “My art aims to bring people together by mixing paint and popular culture.”

Hogge said she designed the mural to showcase diversity among people, not just among races but among their different careers and disciplines.

Also involved in the creation of “Selfie” were Josh Cherry ’17, Catalina Jones ’19, Mary McLaughlin Seys ’17, Matt Springer ’17 and Jennifer Taylor ’17.

“It’s so cool to have all these figures throughout so many diverse cultures all together, taking a little selfie on a pear,” Sam Gazala, who is in his fifth year at Virginia Wesleyan, said.

“This just doesn’t invoke the same kind of wonder,” Gazala said. 

Designing the mural was a very collaborative process, according to Rudel. The class discussed and edited the mural in order to improve and ensure the mural was as good as possible.

One of the points of discussion was the color of the hands, between natural skin tones and the rainbow color that was eventually decided on. The eventual decision, rainbow colored hands, was made to give a sense of diversity and inclusivity, Rudel said.

“This group was a terrific group that was really supportive and engaged to make this project the best it could be,” Rudel said. “It’s kind of magical when a group challenge turns into a singular idea, which then turns into an actually meaningful mural.”

The new mural is designed to bring everyone together, especially given how it occupies a gathering place in the university, Richards said.

“It’s commentary on how everyone’s welcome at Virginia Wesleyan,” Richards said.

Victoria Haneline