Even with changes due to COVID-19, Fairmont State University’s Joel Dugan, chair of the Department of Architecture, Art, and Design, and a group of students were able to complete their public mural project in Palatine Park in just 10 days.
Dugan said he presented the idea last November to the Marion County Commission as a public art piece, asking for help funding the project and providing materials. While the ground up to the wall is owned by the county, the wall is owned by the city.
“This was very unique that we haven’t had the City, University, and County collaborate at this level. Everything went well with getting the unanimous support and we got everything on the books for a course in the spring,” Dugan said. “It was a public art course as a temporary class with the hopes of painting the mural at the end of the spring semester.”
Before leaving due to COVID-19, Dugan said the students had seven and a half weeks to research content on public art and develop a sketch. The students have primarily only created work for themselves as the primary client, not for the general populous, so they had to look into iconography and liked the idea of a type of human experience.
“The students wanted to focus on people who are often overlooked, those who are in trade work,” he said. “Students selected the figures and presented research proposals to the class. We had 12 students but at the end only five were able to be there to paint the mural.”
The figures are luminaries or people who saw change in society and had the ability to transform the community where they lived. Dugan said these people say some type of transition or significant awakening take place during their lifetime.
The figures in the mural include:
- Johnnie Johnson – rock ’n’ roll legend
- Col. George S. “Spanky” Roberts – the first African American military pilot from West Virginia
- Julia Pierpont – the wife of Francis Pierpont, the originator of Memorial Day
- “Aunt Hat” Wilson – thought to be the last slave born in West Virginia
- Coal Miner – a tribute to all the coal miners in West Virginia
“The public support was so amazing. We’re at a time with so much divide with the confinement of COVID and separation socially,” Dugan said. “To see people come by daily, honk their horn or sit in their cars and yell encouraging support, it was incredible. We don’t live in an area with a lot of art venues, but this allowed the students to really blossom so much.”
Tom Mainella, Fairmont City Council member, said Dugan brought the idea to commission and everyone was in favor with it.
“We provided some financial help. It didn’t get done in the spring like it was expected to but the students persevered and they got it finished,” he said. “It’s just beautiful. We are very happy how the project went and how it came to fruition.”
The project is a wonderful example of how the three entities can put their heads together and do something positive, Mainella said. He looks forward to other projects they might be able to accomplish in the future.
“There’s still a lot of wall over there and hopefully we will be able to do some more with Fairmont State and the Art Department to get more of that wall painted,” he said. “What they did was really beautiful and it’s a good tribute to the five people that are on the wall. I, as a citizen, appreciate the efforts and on behalf of the City Council, we are very happy we were able to contribute financially and legislatively to make it happen.”
Marion County Administrator Kris Cinalli said the County Commission is excited to have the University as a partner. There is a lot of potential for the partnership to grow.
“With everything going on this summer, this was a great way to add an awesome amenity to the park that pays homage to the past with a nod towards the future,” he said. “We’re hoping it’s only the beginning for projects like this. We’ve built some good relationship here so we have a good foundation.”
Cinalli said despite the initial delays due to the pandemic, the project couldn’t have run any smoother.