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Art students work with former faculty member to create mural

March 27, 2012

Indiana State University art students are getting out of their studios and into the community to create a piece of public art. Seven students from Nancy Nichols-Pethick's intermediate painting class are working with local artist David Erickson in creating a colorful, larger-than-life mural at the Terre Haute Children's Museum.

"The mural was the reason I signed up for this class," said Amanda Vanatti, a senior in Nichols-Pethick's class. "I'm an art education major so I am excited to work over at the Children's Museum. The museum is such an exciting thing for Terre Haute. I thought it would be really cool to be a part of this project and do something in the community. It is something that will be around for a long time."

The students are viewing the chance to work with Erickson as much of an opportunity as the mural itself.

"I was excited when I heard that David was the artist since he used to be an instructor here and I really like his work," Vanatti said.

The project challenged students with new ways of working and approaching the act of painting.

"I'm excited but nervous because it's not my design," said Michelle Visker, a third year studio art major. "It's more difficult to work on someone else's design because everyone works differently. I hope he likes my work. I'm excited to work with David; to learn from someone who used to teach here."

Jane Thornberry, a third year graphic design major, said a unique benefit and challenge of the project is learning to work as a team."We all work differently so the mural should have a unique vibe to it," Thornberry said.

Vanatti agrees that working collaboratively can be difficult.

"I think the hardest part will be working in this new area with several other artists. We all have somewhat different taste and style," she added.

Erickson, professor emeritus of printmaking, created the design for the mural after Brad Venable, associate professor and interim chair of the art department, contacted him in November.

The mural, titled 'Flightful Fantasy: We can Fly, We can Fly!,' depicts the evolution of flight through time.

"It illustrates the history of flight from prehistoric times to the future with mythological elements as well as factual flying machines," Erickson explained.

The mural will occupy a wall on the third floor of the museum that is more than eight feet high and more than 40 feet long.

"The size is daunting," Visker said. "David mentioned the mural would take a total of 16 gallons of paint and I thought ‘Wow, that's a lot of paint.'"

This will be the third mural created as part of the Gilbert Wilson Memorial Mural Project. The goal of this project is to bring public art to the Terre Haute community and honor the memory of Gilbert Wilson, a Terre Haute native and mural painter in the 1930s and 40s.

The mural project began as an idea of Venable who enlisted the help of Nichols-Pethick, associate professor of painting. Both have served as faculty leads for each of the three mural projects. The previous two murals were created at the Terre Haute Boys and Girls Club in 2006 and the Booker T. Washington Community Center in 2008. The current mural is being funded by Energize Downtown, an initiative of the Indiana State University Strategic Plan.

"We want students to get experience with public art. To work with an elite artist, work on a large scale, and see how people organize large projects- these are all things the students gain," Nichols-Pethick said. "It's easy for painting students to get stuck in their own bubble. This gets students out of that bubble by thinking about the public realm rather than just their private one."

The creative work strengthens Indiana State's ties with downtown.

"ISU recognizes the importance of community partnerships," said Chris Pfaff, director of the university's Business Engagement Center. "The mural project provides an opportunity for faculty and students to be engaged in applied, value-added work that enhances the unique fabric of our downtown."

Erickson said the opportunity is very beneficial to the students.

"Most students have not had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative project of this scale which will have a very large and appreciative audience," he said.

Before the first stroke of paint was cast, the students met several times with Erickson who went over the design and the process for the project. The students were responsible for underlaying flat areas of color as well as detailing assigned subject matter.

"David asked us to do visual research and prepare before we actually start working. He wanted the mural to be really realistic and accurate," Visker said.

"He's very research-based," Thornberry added.

The mural, scheduled to be completed in April, will have several Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) panel components that attach to the wall in low relief. In class, the painting students have been working on one of these components - a moon. Others will be completed by museum visitors in a one day event supervised by the Art Department art education students at a date yet to be determined.

Thornberry said she enjoying seeing the mural come to life.

"As you work it's really encouraging to step back and see how the mural is coming together," she said.

"There is so much preparation, thoughtfulness, and time going into [the mural's] conception," said Vanatti. "I think it's going to turn out great."

Contact: Nancy Nichols Pethick, Department of Art, 812-237-2638

Writer: Kari Breitigam, Arts Marketing Assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773

Story Highlights

Seven students from Nancy Nichols-Pethick's intermediate painting class are working with local artist David Erickson in creating a colorful, larger-than-life mural at the Terre Haute Children's Museum.

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