MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Four professional mural artists described an intense week of creative planning and painting with students during a gallery talk last Friday at McCullough Student Center. Their collaboration resulted in a striking visual transformation of the building’s first floor while adding a significant new piece to the College’s public art collection.
“These artists painted around the clock the entire week,” said Jennifer Herrera Condry, associate director of the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, who spearheaded the project with her husband, artist Will Kasso Condry (Kasso). “I have so much gratitude, so much love for this team for everything they did for Middlebury and for our students.”
The intricate multipart mural fills a previously uninviting hallway connecting Crossroads Café to the student mailroom. An accessibility ramp to the mailroom now serves the dual purpose of creating a pathway for viewing the artwork from many angles.
At the start of the week, students gathered with the artists for a day of workshops before any paint went on the walls. Artist Isaias Crow said that, with such an ambitious project in just a few days, timing was one of the big concepts they discussed as a way to hone in on the most important ideas.
“It becomes a very focused group,” Crow said. “And what we’re really doing is creating a circle of trust. What we started seeing is that we all have things in common—no matter the age, no matter the ethnic background; it doesn’t matter.”
Sabian Edouard ’21, one of the student painters, said the workshop initially felt awkward because it brought together a group of students who might not normally spend time together and forced them to trust each another. After an intense amount of cooperative work on the mural, he felt different.
“I was surprised—like these people don’t look anything like me, they don’t talk anything like me, and we’re actually really different people, but I found that in reality we actually shared a lot of things in common,” said Edouard. “All of the images in this piece embody that sense of interconnectedness, and I think that’s really beautiful. Hopefully that sense of belonging prevails on this campus and allows students to have the opportunity to connect in other places.”
Artist Daniel “POSE2” Hopkins wanted to make trust integral to his portion of the mural. A bright, colorful shape with gun-like qualities, which Hopkins referred to as “The Provocateur” shoots the word “trust” in large colorful splashes from its barrel. Hopkins knew it would make some people squirm, but he was going for contrasts.
“In our minds it’s a weapon that causes a lot of pain, but I reconfigured it with a lot of color and different shapes, and a whole different energy about it because it’s projecting a totally oppositional idea,” said Hopkins. “So it was taking that whole negative concept that’s firmly planted in our minds, and transforming it.”
Harlem-based artist Marthalicia Matarrita also developed students’ words into visuals.
“A lot of the inner expressions that were revealed by the students impacted me a lot,” said Matarrita, whose contributions to the mural were themed around teaching and learning among generations. One of her figures is a celestial woman reading from a book whose pages are flying off into the distance.
“To show movement, I had to convey the ‘book of knowledge,’ in some sense, be a part of the historical background. But at the same time, it flies off like a bird. The communication continues, then, and flows throughout the mural,” said Matarrita.
Kasso said the idea of growth was another recurring theme during planning sessions and that the mural has numerous representations of fertility and growth of both ideas and people throughout. His own contribution to the mural—a baby in utero sleeping peacefully beneath a canopy of fruit-bearing vines—is one of the first things visitors see.
“Everything you see here is a culmination of your ideas,” Kasso said to the students who had participated in the project. “The challenge for us was: How do we represent your ideas and still maintain our artist’s integrity?”
The completed mural represents a months-long effort spearheaded by Herrera Condry, building on work she and Kasso initiated at Middlebury’s Anderson Freeman Resource Center. The two proposed the project in January and received an endorsement from the Committee on Art in Public Places (CAPP). At the reception, Herrera Condry thanked many people for their support, including Middlebury students, members of the mural committee, the college’s facilities crew, and the artists, including Burlington, Vermont-based Scottie Raymond, who was unable to make it to the reception.
Herrera Condry expressed her gratitude to CAPP. “They took a leap of faith. They trusted us to produce something that was going to be in alignment with student voices and student experiences.”
By Stephen Diehl; Photos by Todd Balfour