850 Artists Start Museum Wall "Transformation"

Story posted March 03, 2005

Many people have had the experience of looking at paintings on the walls of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Between February 22nd and 25th, an impressive 850 members of the campus and southern and midcoast Maine communities took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to paint on the Museum walls.

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One of 850 artists adds unique colors and shapes to the mural.

This community-wide art project served as the launch of a larger project involving A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art Mark Wethli and members of his spring semester Painting I course.

In observance of the upcoming renovation of the Museum, and with the European and American painting collections already on loan or in storage, Wethli and his students are creating a mural titled Salon on the nearly 2,000 square feet of empty wall space in the Boyd Gallery. The mural will be painted between March 9 and mid-April, and will remain on view through early June, when renovations are scheduled to begin.

To get the mural underway, the public was invited to assist - and to have some fun - by picking up a brush and contributing to the work.

Word of the mural project spread quickly. Features ran in such media outlets as the Portland Press Herald, the Brunswick Times Record, WCSH-TV (Channel 6) and WGME-TV (Channel 13).

Aspiring painters flocked to the Museum. At any given time during the four days, the Boyd Gallery was a hive of activity, as kids, seniors, students, faculty, staff, Children's Center pre-schoolers, and entire families from the community donned smocks, chose from a spectrum of vibrant colors, and released their inner Picassos. The painters had just one restriction: no words, letters, symbols, numbers, or recognizable images of any kind. This limitation was designed to unite individual efforts into a collective one through a common visual language - as well as a more spontaneous, inventive, and lively one - to serve as a springboard for the work to follow.

This one restriction didn't deter the painters from quickly filling the walls with their own unique creations. The result is a spectacular canvas of brilliantly colored lines, marks, shapes and swirls that have brought the walls to life.

With this phase of the painting completed, Professor Wethli and his students will soon begin adding other visual elements in response to the public's effort and in keeping with the central theme of "transformation."

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The newly painted Boyd Gallery walls will serve as a springboard for the work to come by students in Painting 1.

The students are currently researching the theme using such keywords as "transformation," "metamorphosis," "transition," and "regeneration" in the areas of history, culture, and the sciences. Their research is yielding many potential images, from butterflies to phoenixes.

The artists are also considering the mythological characters Apollo and Daphne, thanks to a suggestion by Museum Director Katy Kline. The 1513 painting "Apollo and Daphne" by Pontormo (Jacopo Carruci) had hung in the Boyd Gallery, and offered a fitting connection to the theme of transformation. In the story, after being struck with Eros's arrow, a lovesick Apollo relentlessly pursues Daphne, who has been similarly struck, but with an arrow that causes her to abhor Apollo. Daphne's desperate wish to change her form in order to escape Apollo is granted, and she is transformed into a laurel tree.

Once the class has settled on certain images, they will choose a corner of the gallery to begin testing their ideas. But it is a process, Wethli points out, and no one can say yet what images the final mural will contain. "It's our main puzzle," he says, "how the images will actually appear, and how they will work."

Understandably, one challenge for the painters will be to capitalize on what the public created, but not lose it. "We'll be working on giving the mural shape and direction, while retaining its vitality," says Wethli.

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Professor Mark Wethli (left) discusses color with an artist.

The painters will be required to cover some areas with new shapes, patterns, and images as the mural progresses. Despite the fact that some of the initial painting will inevitably be painted over or partially obscured, every mark will contribute a vital element to the richness and complexity of the finished piece.

Salon itself is a temporary piece, as construction crews arrive in June to begin their work on the renovation. Nevertheless, the spirit of this community effort - and even certain fragments of the actual painting, though hidden from view - will remain a part of the Museum for the indefinite future, marking this important moment in the Museum's history and evolution.

For more information, contact Mark Wethli at 207-725-3761 or mwethli@bowdoin.edu.

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