WVU’s Mural in the Mountains

By Angie DeWitt

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” -Thomas Merton

Every student, employee, and visitor of West Virginia University has seen the vibrant and imaginative mural painted at the downtown PRT station, and although its immense beauty brings color and joy to an otherwise bleak, grey wall, it also raises some questions: Who? Why? How?

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Geraldo Valera and Cecily Flight joined forces in 2013 on a mission: to beautify the campus. The more they talked and planned, the more people listened. People rallied behind them, and they created the WVU Art Movement. There have been quite a few art installations around Morgantown as of late. In January of 2015, German brothers and world-renowned graffiti artists How and Nosm created their “Present Moment” mural installation, the Art Museum of WVU opened its doors in August of 2015, and the downtown mural was completed this past fall semester as well.

“It became kind of a movement,” Valera expressed.

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Flight took to social media in July of 2014 to advocate for the mural’s creation.

They began their long descent into the meshed world of art and bureaucracy in 2013. Paperwork and approval for the mural took almost a year to complete. The PRT station maintenance team had been working on repairs which caused a delay, and the duo had to deal with trademark and licensing deals since they wanted to use “WVU” and the WVU Mountaineer in their artwork.

After many, many meetings, the project was approved. With the help of WVU’s SGA Arts and Entertainment director Jonathan Riseberg, Valera and Flight were able to make more contacts in SGA as well as the Greek system on campus. However, one problem remained: there was no funding. Money from WVU did eventually arrive, but it arrived late. They began painting using donations they had received and with the help of volunteer workers, and they finished faster than the University was able to help fund. So many students wanted to help that Valera said he actually had to turn away about ten students because there were already so many.

Three separate drafts were presented to the board at WVU before the final design was prepared. WVU President E. Gordon Gee liked all of them, according to Valera, but the decision wasn’t up to Gee alone.

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One of Valera’s initial drafts with mountains on the left and the Mountaineer on the right, looking towards campus.

“There are a lot of people that come into play with how they want the University represented,” Valera said.

The initial draft exhibited literal representations of environmental issues in the state, but the University felt it was too political. They wanted something more abstract and less deliberate. Alas, the mural came to life.

Abstract as it may be, there are a few symbols we are all able to recognize. The waves represent water as a whole, but also more specifically the Monongahela River which flows right through downtown Morgantown alongside the campus.

“Water is born from the mountains of West Virginia. It exports through the river,” Valera explained. “Lots of people underestimate that.”

The design in the center, a star, was created using the Fibonacci sequence of Art. Fibonacci is a sacred geometrical mathematical pattern, one that Da Vinci himself used to use. According to Valera, everything in nature has this pattern.

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Also among the recognizable symbolism is a woman holding a torch. This is commonly an icon of freedom and liberty. The torch alone is a well-known symbol for liberty, and the fire for hair on the woman represents freedom of expression in a non-academic sense, Valera detailed. The bird on the left is also a symbol of freedom.

After all, montani semper liberi, Mountaineers are always free.

The mural took about a month to complete between classes, jobs, and other obligations by the artists. The project has received a lot of positive feedback, and the University has taken notice of that, said Valera. They will begin work on a second mural, the other side of the PRT station walkway, in the summer. It has already been approved, and the draft includes a portrait of the WVU Mountaineer. Given the great deal of support and adoration the first mural received, the process was much quicker and easier to get the second design approved.

The University has asked that the artists put a plaque beside the mural explaining the meaning behind it and the artists involved, and Valera says they will probably do that after the second installation has been completed to make it sort of an art exhibit as students walk through.

The mural is the first student-painted mural on campus, however there are two other murals on campus that were professionally painted, one being the attention-grabbing, two story German installation in the Art Museum of WVU – which incredulously took the brothers only a mere three days, I might add.

The second, created in 1940 by Pittsburgh Industrial artist Robert Lepper, even made an appearance in the 2004 film Spider-Man 2. The mural, created as a part of the Works Progress Administration – a program created by President F.D.R. – is in White Hall on WVU’s downtown main campus. It was this mural which inspired Valera to add more art and color around the campus.

I feel I speak on behalf of all WVU students and faculty when I say thank you, thank you to all the artists who are working to make our home in the mountains even more beautiful.

“I think the best thing is to inspire people.” – Gerardo Valera

catch me at @Motown_UGscene & @angelinadewitt

9 thoughts on “WVU’s Mural in the Mountains”

  1. This story is so intriguing in so many different ways. Everyday, students walk past this mural on their way downtown or to a different campus via the PRT and many often wonder where this mural came from. I like that it’s a breathtaking piece, but I also like the little details the artists incorporated, such as the symbols of freedom that we may see and not really think about. It’s good to hear that they are going to begin working on a second mural and are expanding their efforts. Hopefully sometime soon, more and more art forms will be seen around campus, adding to its beauty and the overall art culture here in Morgantown.

    I didn’t actually know that the mural was the first student painted mural on campus. Obviously, many students are willing and are wanting to change the art culture here in Morgantown because so many people came out to help with the mural. The whole idea of making the PRT station an art exhibit that students can interact with is amazing.

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  2. This is an interesting post because, like most people, I had no idea where the mural at the Beechurst PRT station came from. It sort of appeared overnight, and I looked at it, thought it seemed cool, and then didn’t really inquire any further. Furthermore, I didn’t really inquire about what any of it meant either, I just thought it looked cool just to look cool. I also didn’t really know that there were other murals on campus – I’ve never been to that art museum, for example. It’s good to learn something in these posts.

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  3. I did a story on this mural last semester for a journalism class and I thought it was really interesting to find out the meaning behind it and the artists’ visions. I’m so happy that you continued to provide information behind the mural, because I think most students walk passed it without a faze. It’s such beautiful art and I hope to see more of his work and the WVU Art Movement around campus!

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  4. I interviewed Cecily Flight when they first started working on this idea of creating this mural at the Beechurst PRT station, and I remember the pure passion she had for this project in its very early stages. I think the idea of making an ugly wall into something beautiful could really do wonders for the downtown area of Morgantown. And, following the success of this first mural, i look forward to see the second mural. Who knows what could arise from this student-driven art movement.

    Angie, you did a great job with this story. You really informed the readers of the mural’s process from beginning to end, and it kept me intrigued from the beginning to the end of this article. I really loved the use of using picture of old social media tactics used by Flight and the early drafts of the mural from Valera.

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  5. I really like the piece! I would have liked to see more of the influences surrounding the artists, though, and what got them into art, wanting to do a mural, and that sort of thing. You say they want to beautify the campus but why? Anyway, the mural looks amazing and I’m excited for the other half to be done!

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  6. Nice story and well written. Geraldo Valera was in my JRL 220 class last semester (until I dropped it), and it was clear that there was a talented artist in our midst. This is a really cool happening that we heard about a bit in class, but it was inspiring to read how this “grass roots” effort unfolded. There is a lot of grey concrete on campus that needs to have some color added to it, and I hope this initiative grows. This shows that WVU and Morgantown are becoming home to an arts scene.

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  7. Thanks for doing this post! I’ve always wanted to know the story behind this mural and what it all means so I really enjoyed reading the story behind it. I thought the process they had to go through to just get the design approved was a great read and it was also interesting to find out that so many students were behind this project that they donated paint just to get it started. I’m happy to know that more of these pieces are going to go up around campus and I’m really excited to see what other designs they come up with and how the Mountaineer is going to look in the next mural. It’s great to know that there are students who really care about how the campus looks and what they want to do to improve it.

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  8. Great post! I see this mural all the time so it’s interesting to see the story behind it! I also love all of the symbolism behind it. I would love to hear more about the artists’ backgrounds and what motivate them and inspired them and their art!

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  9. Really loved reading this post! I was super fascinated by the mural as it was being painted, by finding out the story behind it draws me in even more. I met Cecily Flight last year who was an organizer of the WVU Art Movement on campus and she told me about the group’s involvement in the mural painting. It’s great to see students coming together to beautify the downtown area.

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