Students and community members who traverse Shepherd University’s campus through the underpass now have something to look at other than plain white walls. A group of students and alumni headed by art professor Sonya Evanisko is transforming the walls and ceiling of the underpass into a large public art work.
“I’m always really excited when it comes to public art,” Evanisko said. “Many artists create work that ends up in very sheltered spaces like galleries or their own studio. Whenever you have the opportunity to work on a public art project usually the scale is much larger and the access to the art—the people who enjoy the art, see the art, and respond to the art—tends to be more of a community rather than a singular experience that might happen through a gallery.”
Evanisko worked with Shepherd alumni Josh Hawkins, the project’s lead designer, and Fernando Velez, a graphic design major and graphic designer at the Discovery Channel in Washington, D.C., to come up with the concept for the mural. It is an abstract painting that draws from elements on campus and in the community and state—like rolling mountains, rhododendron, wind turbines, and chimney swifts. Evanisko said the biggest challenge is creating a mural on a space that is three-dimensional for viewers who will be moving through and not standing still looking at it. She said the group is working from loose illustrations and is responding to the space.
“So there’s no tracing or using a grid to get it from one scale to another,” Evanisko said. “The mural will be shaped by hand on site.”
The three, along with several Shepherd students, have been volunteering their weekends to work on the project. Hawkins grew up in Harpers Ferry and is a freelance painter who has done murals in other communities.
“Coming from a background where I normally do something small that goes in someone’s house, it’s nice to do something in a public space and to be working within the community,” Hawkins said. “Adding imagery enhances the underpass and the experience of walking from one side of the campus to the other.”
Velez, who has experience working with Hawkins on large murals, said the project is fun.
“It’s really challenging and a great opportunity,” he said. “I feel like this is the perfect space because it had huge, empty white walls.”
Rachael Dutko and Katelyn Wyant, both of Martinsburg, and Kaleb Aurand of Silver Spring, Maryland, spent part of a recent weekend helping with the project.
“It’s a nice way to create an interactive space,” Dutko said. “The empty walls on this part of the campus are a little boring and I think having some public art installed here will really make the community appreciate the art more and see what we can do to public spaces around Shepherd.”
Wyant said she’s excited the mural will be completed in time for her last year of college.
“It gets our art out of the studios and onto the campus,” Wyant said. “I’m a senior next year, and I walk through this tunnel all the time. I’m really excited to be able to walk through my last year and know that I helped.”
“I decided to do it as a fun way to get me connected to the Shepherd community,” Aurand said.
Evanisko pointed out that the arts play a big role at Shepherd, in Shepherdstown, and in West Virginia, but there is not a lot of public art displayed on campus.
“Having a work specifically designed for the Shepherd campus is pretty unique,” Evanisko said. “I hope it just makes a statement that we are a community and university that really embraces arts and culture.”
Evanisko also hopes this addition to Shepherd’s public art collection will encourage people to walk more, because placing public art along a pathway creates visual interest.