Science Building mural finds new home in Dunklau Center

Published by Logan Tuttle 1 year ago on Wed, Nov 10, 2021 11:15 AM
The wall mural that was completed by Professor Emeritus William Wolfram and a group of art students in 1986 for the Science Building entrance has been refreshed as a 20-foot-long painting that was recently installed in the Dunklau Center.

A familiar art piece has returned to the Dunklau Center for Science, Math and Business in a new form.

The wall mural that was completed by Professor Emeritus William Wolfram and a group of art students in 1986 for the Science Building entrance has been refreshed as a 20-foot-long painting that was recently installed in the Dunklau Center.

Professor James Bockelman ’89, one of the students who helped Professor Wolfram with the original mural, was asked by Concordia’s interior aesthetics committee to reconstitute a new five-panel piece that would incorporate some of the fragments and spirit of the original. Bockelman enlisted the help of Sarah Armbrust, a senior art major and B.F.A. candidate to help transform the old fragments into the new mural. The team finished the painting in October and it was installed in time for Homecoming.

“It was a privilege for me to work on this again,” Bockelman said. “I’m sure I learned 10 times more this time around than I did when I was a punk, 19-year-old student. I’m also grateful that this work contributes to making Concordia a unique university.”

All too often, Bockelman said, art on campus gets used as art, but for non-art purposes, “Art’s purpose can be didactic, but the force of it is much deeper,” he said. “So, to display any work of original art designed for a specific location on campus is a good thing; we would do well to have more of it.”

The process of repurposing the original mural was not a simple one, because it was sheet-rocked to a cinder block wall. Dr. Brent Royuk, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Megan Boggs, the college’s administrative assistant, had the idea of preserving whatever was possible to reuse into a new piece, Bockelman said.

The eagle panel that was salvaged from the original Science Building mural, created by Professor Emeritus William Wolfram and a group of students in 1986, is included in the new mural designed by Professor James Bockelman and Sarah Armbrust, a senior art major. 

“I think it was important to preserve Professor Wolfram’s piece because it was a major cultural artifact developed specifically for the campus community,” Bockelman said. “The original mural embodied all the messiness found at the heart of the Christian experience, especially as we humans work and wait alongside nature—our realities are inextricably woven together.”

As Bockelman began his process, he realized that he did not have all the whole original mural, nor was the new site the same size as the old science building entry. The silver lining, however, was that Royuk and Boggs were able to salvage two iconic pieces of the original mural.

“They were able to save the eagle that is now positioned in the fifth panel, and the turbulent, vibrant color and texture located in the third panel,” Bockelman said.

While the team worked to transform the series of paintings into a larger piece, Armbrust said it was important for them to take many steps back to see the full vision, instead of only focusing on individual sections at a given time.

“We did work on individual panels, but much of it was taking a look at the whole and redoing portions to make the entire piece coherent,” she said. “Professor Bockelman started the panels with an initial concept, so we were constantly checking to make sure it came across clearly.”

Bockelman said he asked Armbrust to work with him on the project because of her painting skills and strong work ethic. At the start of August, the team worked out of Bockelman’s studio. Originally, Armbrust was hired to repaint the eagle panel, but she quickly provided additional insight.

“Sarah was a tremendous, critical help, especially in terms of discussing the compositional framework of the four other panels,” Bockelman said.

For Armbrust, she said it was an honor to be asked to work on the piece.

“I deeply appreciated this wonderful opportunity to work with Professor Bockelman on this,” she said. “I hope it is a blessing to Concordia’s campus and an artistic guide to the Gospel.”


Artist Statement

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  

In 1986, Professor Emeritus William Wolfram and several art students completed a large mural in the science building entrance. On this wall, these five panels incorporate some of the fragments from that original wall painting, represented particularly in the third and fifth sections. The theme in the original mural is reflected in these five panels as well; creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be liberated. Lifted from Romans chapter eight, Saint Paul’s writing describes the intimate and interdependent relationship between the human race and the natural world.

Unseen forces. Dark matter. Gravity. Intuition. Here, geometric, measured shapes are set against free flowing, entropic passages. Tactile, physical surfaces push upwards towards the immaterial and atmospheric. Light and illumination cut in sharp contrast to shadow and the darkness of mystery. Referencing something that is unseen, the veiled and hidden are as valid as that which is presented. All of these visual contradictions coexist and reaffirm our present, earthly paradox; though we are redeemed creatures we long with the created order for a future salvation. In this manner, the installation reflects the tension between the real and the abstract. It affirms, that which is gracious and blessed is present especially in the broken and incomplete. Nature decays and is reborn through cycles. This truth is reasserted in the fifth panel, where the eagle serves not as a bookend to the narrative, but the genesis of new freedom realized through resurrection.