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March 17, 2014

Art Student’s Murals Capture Regal Look of ODU’s Real-life Mascot

feature1-lgJaimie Phillips works on the large-lion mural last week at Perry Library.
By Steve Daniel

While many students got away for spring break, Jaimie Phillips spent much of her time on campus in the library. But not to get ahead on her reading for classes.

Since late February, the senior fine arts major from Roanoke, Va., has been painting two murals, each 8 feet by 16 feet, inside Perry Library. The project was conceived by Morel Fry, administrative services librarian, and others at the library as a way to inject some artistic life into the facility.

"We are continuously looking into ways to enhance the library's look. With the blank gray walls calling out to us, we've been discussing placing student and faculty art in the building as an opportunity to engage the university community. We thought a mural would be a great start," Fry said. "We had just completed refurbishing the furniture on the third floor and it seemed logical to start there."

In a few more days, the project will be finished, and visitors to the library will be greeted by a new Monarch addition to the Old Dominion community.

Given complete artistic freedom in creating images for the murals, Phillips confessed that, after giving it a lot of thought and research, she came up with the artist's equivalent to writer's block. But then inspiration came roaring back around.

"I went with my first thought, to create a realistic, larger-than-life lion. Since ODU's mascot is the Monarch, I wanted to make the lion regal and majestic," she said.

"My goal for the other mural, with some suggestions from Elliott Jones and Heather Bryant (art department faculty members), was to create a landscape that had a smaller lion in it."

The two images - one featuring a male lion close up and the other a landscape with a female lion - are separated by a wide gap in the interior wall. But with both lions looking toward each other, they complement one another, Phillips explained. She has worked exclusively on the male lion mural and has gotten help from fellow painting students Emily Davidson and Andrew Oberle in creating the companion landscape mural (see photo below).

After Fry contacted the art department with her idea, Phillips was the logical choice for the job. Two years ago, in Jones' Painting Studio course, Phillips and Valerie Spivey were the two student volunteers selected to paint a mural on an exterior wall of the William E. Wood and Associates downtown office building at 21st Street and Hampton Boulevard. The image, of a large Adirondack chair facing a sunset seascape, offers a pleasant diversion for the thousands of northbound boulevard drivers as they approach the railroad underpass.

Jones contacted Phillips about the library request.

"Jaimie is one if our more talented painting majors" he said. "Because of her experience painting murals with her mural partner, Valerie Spivey, and the success they've had, and because she's still a student, it made her a clear choice to lead the library mural project. I recognized her talent and ability early on when she took our second-semester painting course with me. She has natural instincts and caught on very fast. She's been doing outstanding work ever since and has a bright future ahead of her."

After coming up with a sketch for the library project, Phillips presented it to Jones, Bryant, Fry and Robert Wojtowicz, professor of art history. Jones and Bryant made some suggestions for the landscape mural, and Phillips set about assembling her tools: paint, brushes, stepladder and drop cloths.

Phillips chose a color palette of dark blues and gold tones, the blue because it is near the university's color, and the gold to complement it. "I love color, and if I could I would go crazy with it - as many as possible. However, when I do murals I have to take into account the job site. For a university library, I wanted to keep it somewhat mute and not overly crazy. With both images, though, there is a nice contrast between colors to really make them pop."

As Phillips has gotten ever closer to completing the project, more and more students have come up to her to compliment her on the work.

"I agreed to paint the murals because I wanted to leave something behind when I left ODU," said Phillips, whose B.F.A. concentration is in painting. "It is bittersweet; this is my last semester of undergraduate school."

She credits Jones for his instruction and is thankful for his belief in her.

"I know how difficult it is being an art major, and a painting one at that, but to get the chance to broadcast my art to people daily with this mural is a triumph in its own," she said.

Going from canvases in the studio to larger-than-life murals can present unique challenges, as Phillips has learned.

"Painting murals starts out as enjoyment, depending on the job; however, sometimes we have to fight off elements, like the weather and the physical labor that goes with it. But this mural isn't that bad.

"In the past, I have worked in heat waves of the summer, and on scaffolding lying on my back to paint a ceiling mural. It seems no matter how hard it was to complete, though, the end result brings on the satisfaction and the reason why I keep painting."

Phillips is, after all, an artist at heart.

"It seems I am always working on something for myself while I am working on the murals. I have a little set-up at home and will paint at night or on the weekends. I love landscapes, the ocean, brilliant color, epic narratives - many things inspire me."

Once she graduates in May, Phillips will be adding new brush strokes to her own life canvas.

"I have hopes to attend graduate school, but I am sure I will continue the mural work as well," she said. "I really hope to travel the world and possibly inspire many with my artwork."

In the meantime, Phillips' work is already inspiring a number of people on the ODU campus.

"I am absolutely thrilled with her work; I think she and her helpers have done a fantastic job," Fry proclaimed. "Jaimie is a wonderful artist and a great person to work with. Each day, I can't wait to go and see what's been done. It has been a great education to watch how the mural has evolved and to appreciate the amount of work that Jaimie and her crew have invested."

feature1-lg01Phillips, right, with fellow painting students Emily Davidson and Andrew Oberle.