Middlebury

Sabra Field's art to transform blank wall into large outdoor mural

October 4, 2010

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ― As a student walking to class, Middlebury College art history major Kate Lupo often saw the 3,000 square-foot wall on the back of Middlebury College’s Wright Theater as a giant canvas waiting to be transformed. After more than a year of working on making this idea a reality, Lupo, who graduated from Middlebury in May, is looking forward to returning to campus when New York City-based Colossal Media converts the wall into a mural featuring “Cosmic Geometry” by Vermont artist and 1957 Middlebury graduate Sabra Field. Colossal Media will paint the mural Oct. 15-19, and Lupo will be on campus Oct. 18-23 as the project is completed. The work, which has an environmental theme, will be Field’s first large piece of outdoor artwork since the 1980s.

The project is also a first for Colossal Media, which has never worked on a college campus before. Most of the company’s projects, from a multi-story fall foliage scene to ads for MOMA and Nike, are on display in prominent locations in urban areas, such as New York and Los Angeles. Its clients include galleries, city municipalities and advertising agencies.

“I was inspired by the hopeful, democratic spirit of large scale murals created by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression,” said Lupo.

Kate Lupo
Kate Lupo presented the idea for the mural project as a student.

Lupo began her efforts for the Middlebury project in September 2009 when she presented Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz with a proposal for the project. She also met with Field and Richard Saunders, director of the Middlebury College Museum and chair of the Committee on Art in Public Places at Middlebury College (CAPP). Lupo proposed “Cosmic Geometry” for the mural, emphasizing that an environmental theme was appropriate given Middlebury’s commitment to sustainability. CAPP endorsed it as did the Town of Middlebury’s Design Advisory Committee.

“Cosmic Geometry” depicts an array of cellular, plant, animal and architectural patterns in a grid, grouped in themed quartets. The work demonstrates that the human and natural worlds are connected by the same forms and patterns. Field shows how such great architecture as the roof of the Duomo in Florence looks similar to trees on a Vermont hillside while the inside of the Pantheon dome resembles the pattern found in a piece of honeycomb.

“We moderns weren’t the first to intuit such connections.  It’s been happening in art for as long as we’ve been making images and building structures,” said Field. “It seems to be our nature to look for rational patterns, to use them, to enhance them and pass them along. Those fun ‘ah ha’ moments of discovery can lead to revelations that may be scientific, mathematical, poetic, spiritual or all of the above.”

“‘Cosmic Geometry’ is a departure from Sabra’s landscapes with which many of us are familiar,” said Saunders. “It encourages you to contemplate the delicate balance between man and the natural world. Scientists have shown us that if you tamper with one element of nature, then another component, as well as man, is affected. That’s part of what these images reflect.

“A person walking by the mural will not grasp its meaning immediately but will need to pause and reflect on it,” added Saunders.

The total cost of the mural is $23,000, of which CAPP is paying half. Lupo won a DoSomething.org $500 Action Grant for the project, and worked with Peggy Smith, a member of the Middlebury class of 1957 and a friend of Field, to raise the remainder of the funds.

“This project is an example of how a student at Middlebury can have an impact on campus, and how the college is receptive to students’ creativity and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Liebowitz. “It’s also a wonderful combination of the imagination and determination of one student with the talent of an admired alumna.”

Will Lupo tackle another mural soon? “I am actually working on a mural project now in downtown Westport, Conn., under the auspices of the Westport Arts Center,” said Lupo. The mural will be Lupo’s second in Connecticut ― she organized her first at Weston High School in her hometown of Weston in 2009.

“Murals are important because they are public artworks, to be enjoyed by everyone, not just an elite audience,” said Lupo. “I am excited to help resurrect the power of public murals to engage communities in discussions of critical social issues through the arts.”

Middlebury College is encouraging the college community and the public to visit the Sabra Field mural from Oct. 15–23, and participate in the Middlebury Mural Photo Contest by submitting photos of friends and family in front of the artwork at Murals4America for a chance to win a signed Sabra Field poster.