As the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo’s legendary frescoes on the ceiling of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, 50 Azusa Pacific University students created their own masterpiece that pays homage to his most famous panel, “The Creation of Adam.” The iconic image of God’s finger touching that of man’s is depicted in the first section of a 15-foot wall mural, entitled Knowledge Over Time, recently installed adjacent to Darling Library, in Duke Academic Complex.
Historians say that Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, not a painter, and had no experience with frescoes. He reluctantly accepted the commission to create what would become one of the Italian Renaissance’s greatest works of art. Of the 50 APU students who embarked on the Knowledge Over Time mural, only 2 were art majors. Like Michelangelo, many doubted their abilities and were hesitant to tackle an art project of such magnitude.
“For most of these students, this was their first time taking an art class,” said Jim Thompson, Ed.D., professor in the Department of Art and Design. “In fact, many came into my Fundamental Art 310 class feeling they weren’t creative and convinced they weren’t artistic.”
Thompson and fellow art professor Tom Dunn set out on a mission to change their minds. What began as a drawing Dunn jotted on a piece of paper soon evolved into a couple thousand pounds of clay. “This was the perfect liberal arts statement¬¬non-art majors encouraged to create art,” Dunn said.
Students worked on 22 clay slabs, each two inches thick and measuring 22 x 16 inches. They carved and cut into the clay, transferring the lines from Dunn’s drawing. Soon powerful images emerged, telling a story from the beginning of time through the start of the Renaissance. The carved panels dried for three months then were fired for seven days at 2,100 degrees until each piece was durable enough for wall mounting. Painting the mural was a five-step process that involved applying watered down acrylics and rubbing them off to achieve an aged appearance. Layer upon layer of blue, yellow, red, raw sienna, and burnt umber lend a rich depth to the piece.
From that initial depiction inspired by the Sistine Chapel to the Tree of Knowledge and the Hebrew word for love, the first panel celebrates the creation of the world. From there, the timeline showcases the prehistoric cave drawings discovered in France and Spain followed by the world’s great ancient civilizations, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Beside Rome, the mural introduces Jesus Christ symbolized by the cross and the words, “Redemption, Joy, and Faith.” The third panel portrays medieval times with a monk transcribing Scripture, the first printing press, and a globe defining the start of the Renaissance.
“This mural tells a love story,” Dunn said. “It demonstrates how God revealed himself to humanity over time by bestowing His wisdom and knowledge, and, ultimately, by sending His Son to us so we could be in relationship with Him.”
To coincide with the debut of the College of Music and the Arts in fall 2013, Thompson and Dunn had a second theme in mind when they envisioned the art project. “This mural pays tribute to the new college,” Thompson said. “We invited seventh and eighth graders from St. Frances of Rome School in Azusa to help with the mural. They carved the names of every full-time faculty member in the art, music, and theater, film, and television departments into bricks. These bricks frame the mural and remind us of the educators who are affecting lives and advancing knowledge.”
For Paul Gray, Ed.D., dean of university libraries, the Knowledge Over Time mural is a welcome addition to campus. “I see the library as a central focal point of a liberal arts education," he said. “When Jim and Tom proposed the idea for their mural, I thought it was fantastic. It celebrates wisdom and the liberal arts through a Christian worldview of history, which mirrors the mission of APU.”
The second phase of the mural, the Renaissance to modern times, is scheduled for completion next year. Art students will undertake the subsequent 15 feet, and the images will appear more detailed and complex to reflect the increase in knowledge and innovation. “The moon landing would be a powerful event to capture,” Dunn said. “But we aren’t revealing any secrets. APU will have to wait and see. Only time will tell.”