In 1943 the esteemed Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock completed Mural, both his first commission and largest ever canvas. Pollock’s technique was his earliest effort in what art historians call “action painting,” as he splashed, as opposed to brush, some of the paint, likely while listening to jazz and smoking cigarettes. His oil on linen masterpiece adorned the entrance hallway of Peggy Guggenheim’s NYC townhouse until she bequeathed it to The University of Iowa in 1951.
At the time of this blog’s publication, Mural is destined for prominent display at the recently constructed Stanley Museum of Art (set to open on August 26th) here on campus in Iowa City, which happens to be the home of this blog’s writer.
Ironically, Pollock’s composition does not fit the standard definition of a mural: painting directly onto a wall surface. Yet, its size and scale—measuring at a whopping twenty feet wide by eight feet tall—adhere to the conventional dimensions of murals commonly gracing public walls all around the world.
Just take Iowa City, dubbed “the greatest small city for the arts,” for instance. Murals abound along its alleyways and thoroughfares. Perhaps most notable are two large-scale images (see picture below) on the Burlington Street side of the Capitol Street parking ramp completed in 2021 by Antoine Williams and Donté Hayes in conjunction with Public Space One and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies.
My educational background and career aspirations lie in art history—hence this piece’s emphasis on murals—but if any of you have read my recent post about the need for rooftop playgrounds in Iowa City, then you know that another of my interests is local childcare. Why not combine them, especially considering our distinctive and prestigious heritage in the medium? After all, murals can serve as visual conduits for local values and principles, as Williams’ and Hayes’ civil rights-themed works attest.
Murals are appropriate not only for exterior façade decoration but also interior embellishment and beautification of businesses, including childcare centers. Johnson County, home to Iowa City, has eighty-five! Surely, some of these centers crave artistic touch-ups, even grand schemes replete with symbols and designs that speak to the preoccupations and imaginations of children and their caretakers.
Compelling models for such projects exist across the state of Iowa. For example, the Gilchrist Learning Center—an arm of the Sioux City Art Center offering high quality instruction to students of all ages and skill levels—unveiled, just two weeks ago, two new interior murals (see pictures below) visible to passersby from Pierce Street through a glass encased hallway. The result of team efforts between center staff and students from local high schools, Western Iowa Tech Community College, and The University of South Dakota, the paintings explore themes revolving around “social media, self-esteem, and the fear of not meeting expectations,” themes that reverberate with people of all ages. Also present in the schemes are symbols representative of Sioux City and its distinctive attractions, fostering a sense of local identity. CBS14 Siouxland News quoted artist Treyzel Chandler: “I hope that they see them and kind of think that someone in their town helped make these, and they should be proud too because they helped make the environment that we grew up in.”
Iowa City, what do you think? Maybe we could take queues from this coordination between local high schools, an area community college, and a state university to craft beautiful images on the walls of our childcare centers. Remember, we’re home to Pollock’s Mural and countless public projects, affirming our mantle as the “the greatest small city for the arts.” Why not expand that prestigious classification to encompass our many childcare centers? The possibilities are endless!
Sources (text & images):