“I recall one painting with profound, lasting impact depicts the horror of 9-11,” says Williams. “Painted by Kim Van Someren-Berg, I still visit it each September, reminded of how she began the work in a fury of creativity and grief as we watched those horrific events unfold in real time.”
It’s that kind of impact William sees taking place in Murphy Library thanks to a new program promoting student artwork.
The program is organized by Murphy Library faculty and staff Amber Leibundgut-Peterson and Marc Manke, both eager to promote the work of student artists and create a more vibrant, creative learning environment in the library. In spring 2021 and 2022, students in Williams’ 300/400 level painting courses drafted proposals for a large-scale work — 4-feet by 4-feet — that connects with the mission of the library and reflects current time.
The course-embedded, high-impact exercise involves weeks of planning and creating. Student artists discover how to construct the stretcher from the ground up, thanks to wood shop demonstration and mentoring by Manke. It culminates when the finished work is delivered to the library during finals week.
“I hope these new paintings will have a lasting impact with enduring messages of hope and creativity,” says Williams.
The canvas paintings are installed at the library for at least two years, after which students may take them. The students received full funding and support for canvas stretcher construction and all other materials. Special course fees can't support work of this scale, so funding from the Murphy Library Endowment gives students an opportunity to work on a large canvas without undue financial burden. They keep any leftover funding for future art projects.
Williams says what's particularly interesting about the most recent work delivered May 11, is its overall emphasis on healing and positive emotional impact during unprecedented challenging times.
“Any time a work of art mingles with the existing collection of an institution like a museum or library, history is made, and new contexts are created,” she notes. “As a professor and an artist, it gives me great hope that UWL values creative endeavors enough to support student art in this meaningful way.”
The artwork ranges stylistically from subtle, abstract color field paintings to mandala-like forms and figurative work. The pieces are installed throughout the building.
Katie Erdahl, a May 2022 graduate who majored in psychology and minored in art therapy, says an opportunity to paint on a 4-foot by 4-foot canvas was challenging and exciting. In her painting, the Plymouth, Minnesota, native sought to capture the relationships between a mother and her child.
“I really wanted to emphasize the love that this mother has for her baby,” explains Erdahl. “She is reading to her baby before the baby is born to help her baby start recognizing her voice and promote early literacy. It was important to me to show the importance of being read to in early childhood as a jumping off point for future literacy.”
Erdahl is especially excited that the painting will hang in the library to inspire many in the next couple of years.