Fifteen Auburn University students went under the sea for inspiration, and brought it into the pediatric unit at East Alabama Medical Center, in the form of a mural.
The Painting II class designs a mural each semester under the guidance of its professor Wendy Deschene. The latest Painting II class had the chance to step inside Lee County’s medical center to paint a scene of underwater life and wonder for the pediatric unit.
“We created a sea life mural for the East Alabama Medical Center’s Pediatric Center,” said Myra Stephenson, a fine-arts major. “We did it on two large canvases so they could hang them up in the hospital.”
Many art departments do not put a focus on murals, Deschene said, but for her it is always important.
“The inclusion of the creation of murals in my curriculum is very important,” she said. “It teaches students that they do not have to wait for a museum or gallery to appreciate their skills to be part of the artworks or world.
“Art belongs everywhere and not just in places that we would expect it. This is a very important message, as it empowers my students in several ways.”
Deschene has been having classes design murals since she began teaching in 2006. Students have reached out after they graduate, thanking her for the experience or sharing howthe mural work helped them land a job, she said.
“(My students) have skills that the world needs,” she said.”In our department everyone is talented and creative, but the rest of the world thinks what we do is amazing. When we take our work into a community without a creative focus like a hospital students can see how their skills or art making is appreciated.
Secondly, as artists, we have a responsibility to give what we can to the world. Outreach into the community is an important part of a well-rounded liberal arts education. These murals act as gifts of beauty or human interest into a community.”
The murals act as their own form of advertisement, she said. Like EAMC, people see her classes’ murals and approach her to have one made.
“When Miranda, a child care specialist at the hospital, reached out to me to create a mural for the pediatric unit I thought it would be a perfect match for the mission of the mural project in our class,” she said.
There are challenges with having an entire class paint a mural. Deschene divides the mural into sections and teams work on different parts.
Stephenson and a friend painted the sea horse and underwater chest. She also painted many of the creatures’ eyes.
“We enjoyed doing it as a team,” said Caroline Mathews, an English major and studio art minor.
Stephenson said at times it was difficult getting everyone in the room to paint at once. Groups would sometimes take turns, though.
“I work with the client to set the project up and organize materials and budgets,” Deschene said. “Sometimes the clients come and talk to the students directly and sometimes the students take a field trip to see the location and meet the community they are painting for.
“When that is not possible I bring back as much information as I can to the class before we design the mural. We design it in class together and then in the interest of time I continue to make edits and work with the clients to make it perfect. We then get to paint.”
One challenge was making the mural looked cohesive. All levels of artistic talent and backgrounds work together to create one piece.
“It would not look right if it looked like 15 different styles or approaches worked on it,” Deschene said. “It has to look cohesive.”
They came back when the mural was unveiled and for many, it was emotional. Stephenson said she cried when a nurse first saw it.
“When we went to see it in the hospital, we got to meet some of the doctors and nurses who (work) in that part of the hospital, and it was so sweet,” Stephenson said.
The hospital reveal was Mathews’ favorite part of the entire project, she said.
“(This mural is) going to do something that’s so much bigger than what I ever thought I would do in a typical classroom setting,” she said. “Because usually in class, you’re just learning to learn and further your major and your own career goals but I knew that This project was going to do so much more and was going have an impact on so many people right now and people for years to come.
And just knowing that those families that have children at the hospital are going through such tough times and we could try to make them a little happier and make their experience just a little bit better and brighter.”