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The Saint Vincent Library Mural
A Library serving the St Vincent Archabbey, Seminary & College
Latrobe, Pennsylvania, USA

Ceramic tile, 22 ft by 11 ft, 6 inch units, designed and glazed by the artist at St Vincent, 1958-60.   click for larger view


While I intended this mural to identify with 20th Century art my glorified image of Jesus remains strongly identified with iconic art in Eastern Christian traditions.  The mural appears to have its feet, as it were, in two worlds, an ancient Christian world with its eyes on a heavenly place and a mid 20th Century world seeking new directions in the arts & sciences. Some have viewed this feature as a "remarkable fusion of Byzantine and modern art". As I view it today I see it as a remarkable effort to achieve such a fusion.  But its 20th Century side remains foreign to main stream 20th Century art movements. However its visual form does stand strongly on its own as a unique, original work. Perhaps this goes hand in hand with its clear and confident iconography, an iconography from a world of beliefs that I must have held strongly at that time, well over 50 years ago.  Looking back now it represents a vigorous period in my life when the security of my belief system began to undergo change. Within the next decade this change led me to another way of life beyond the cloister.  See my essay "From cloister to nature's sanctuary".

click for larger view

ICONOGRAPHIC THEME:  "I am the way, the truth and the life"

The theme presented here views the search for truth in the arts & sciences as a fruitful endeavor when illuminated by the teachings of Jesus. The layout presents enlightenment in the arts & sciences bathed in the light of His teaching. The glorious transformed Jesus image exemplifies that enlightenment. His wounds are transformed into golden flames and the halo is gemmed with golden beads symbolizing how the light of His "truth" transforms the pain & suffering to be endured along the way.  The enlightened pathway follows His teaching as noted in John: "I am the way and the truth and the life . . .". (John 14, 6).

A golden light passes from the haloed head of Jesus and drops down on both sides of the wall illuminating symbols of the arts & sciences. Those symbols of pursuits bathed in the light  enjoy being illuminated by the "way" , the "truth" and the "life" and those that fall under the dark blue shadow are the pursuits of those who have not yet, as it were, found the "way".

The human figure to the viewer's left is bathed with a dark bluish shadow and appears to be lost examining an unidentified bread-like substance. The figure on the right is bathed with a ray of light and has his head turned to Jesus. The primary bread-like substance he holds is marked with a cross and is informed with the light of truth.  With these symbolic devices this mural presents a vision of the arts & sciences being enlightened by those who follow the teachings of Jesus who is presented here as ". . .the way and the truth and the life".  

This detail represents the biological sciences.
Theme Source:

The theme presented in this mural was influenced by my close friend, classmate and Benedictine priest, Campion Gavaler.  Back in the late 1950's he counseled me on the theology of this theme and assisted in identifying many details that have been included. Within a decade I left the cloister and became a free thinker following a different pathway. But  Campion and I have remained close friends over the years.

Click here for a summary of my spiritual journey.

SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATIONS: Most of the arts & sciences are shown with two representations, one placed more in the light and and the other more in the dark part of the mural. My recollection of intended representations are as follows.   Arts:  palette (art), lyre (music).  Languages & literature:  alphabet letters  A,B,C and Greek sigma. Geometry & math: triangles, minus &  plus signs.  Theatre: comic & tragic masks.  Biological sciences: plants with blooms.  Chemistry: retort.  Medicine: caduceus. IIndustry: gear wheels.  Astronomy & space science: orbiting planets, rocket, *satellite.

The satellite symbol, representing Sputnik is located on the upper right portion of the mural to the left of the tragic mask.  Sputnik (Cпутник) is the  Russian term for rocket. On  October 4, 1957 Russia shocked the world when it launched Sputnik-1,  the first satellite ever launched into orbit. This pioneer achievement captured the imagination of people around the world as they stood in awe watching it at night moving through space in its orbit.  It spawned the space sciences that have, since that time, made  immense contributions to astronomy and theoretical cosmology. 


A view showing me preparing glazes for the tiles. The jars on the table hold batches of  glazes prepared in advance to match the model. The preliminary model seen in the background served as a guide. (ca. 1958). The finished mural yielded a remarkable fidelity to the model. click here for more detail Above:  After each firing I inspected tiles for color match and imperfections before setting them in their numbered place. Tiles shown here with white flame-like forms were awaiting a second firing with bright reds. The bright reds and gold were achieved with a second firing at a lower temperature to preserve their color. 


The Hierholzer family contributed funds for the materials.


This project received support from many colleagues in the St Vincent community. Notable especially were Father Fintan Shonicker, Director of the Library, who had the vision for a mural in the early planning stages. He acquired funding for materials, encouraged me to undertake the project and worked out the necessary support. The Art Department Director, Father Emerich Pfeister,  who had introduced me to glazing and firing procedures, helped acquire working materials, provided working spaces and the art department's large kiln and assisted in the firing.  My close friend and respected theologian, Father Campion Gavaler,  advised me on the theological theme and suggested it be based on the text from John noted in the interpretation above.  Father Rene Gracida, My monastic classmate and experienced architect, engineered the plan for a welded aluminum frame that cradles the tile in a single unit independent of any shifting in the building's foundation. Father Cecil Dietrich, another close friend and classmate, who had studied the Mt. Rushmore monument, advised me on how to achieve a reliable full scale cartoon based on my preliminary scale model. Thanks to the SV Prep School Sophomore class of 1958-59 for dormitory wall space.  I drew the full scale cartoon on their dorm wall and transferred it with rolls of tracing paper.  - RV,  2011

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