Art students leave their mark on WKU with buon fresco installation
- Mary Bidwell
- Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
For senior Ally Adams and recent graduate Zoe Cole ('23), the opportunity to leave their mark on WKU came by asking Professor Mike Nichols a question.
"Hey, can we complete that unfinished mural in the hallway?"
Professor Nichols surprised the duo by encouraging them to design their own buon fresco - and this summer, that design is coming to life on the 4th floor of the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center.
Showing the moment when the Greek goddess Demeter discovers her daughter, Persephone, has been taken to the Underworld, the design combines Adams' interest in portraits and Cole's preference for landscapes.
Adams and Cole had limited experience with the technique of buon fresco and didn't know each other well before starting the project. However, they were thrilled to have the opportunity after painting a small buon fresco tile in their ART 360 class with Professor Nichols.
"Not a lot of people get the opportunity to learn this style and Professor Nichols is one of the only fresco painters in America," Adams shared. "Just to stumble upon it in college was a dream come true and I'm glad to do it."
Used as early as approximately 1500 BCE by the Minoan civilization of Crete, buon fresco fuses paint and plaster for a durable final product that is attached to the wall. Before work could begin on their own fresco, Adams and Cole had to carve the unfinished mural out of the wall to start fresh. Even after that was complete, creating a fresco requires a great deal of physical effort.
"It's a workout! We had to start applying plaster at the top and work down, pushing the plaster into the wall as we go," Adams shared.
Sketching the design started in January 2023, with plaster application and painting happening in stages.
"We work in long 8 to 10-hour sections of painting into wet plaster that we hand make and apply ourselves," shared Adams.
A projector helps them line up the image onto the wall and create a rendering of the sketch. As they progress, they need to alternate between keeping the workspace wet enough to paint on - sometimes literally applying water to the wall - and allowing completed areas to thoroughly dry.
"The plastering takes around 3 hours to create and set into its section depending on how large we plan to go that day. And painting has the potential to take double that time to paint onto and buildup the image," shared Adams.
With coffee, snacks, conversation, and music, watching plaster and paint dry has never been more fun.
Reflecting on the process, the duo is grateful for the guidance of Professor Nichols, who works in the WKU Department of Art & Design. "We appreciate him so much - he has been a fantastic mentor. He even came out on the weekends to check up on the fresco's progress," shared Cole.
In addition to this unique applied learning experience, Adams and Cole have been able to take multiple classes with Professor Nichols and travel to the Detroit Institute of Art to explore additional frescoes.
As they work to complete their fresco, the duo has a sense of pride, purpose, and even a little nervousness about their work.
"Everyone on this floor knows we're doing it, so our classmates have been very supportive and share positive comments as we work. But it's intimidating because everyone is going to look at it," said Cole.
"It's inspiring to others as much as it is to us. It's the knowledge that at WKU, you can learn the most amazing techniques," said Adams.
They even passed on some of that knowledge by volunteering at the Jonesville Academy STEAM Day earlier this year, assisting with teaching students in grades 3-8 about buon fresco techniques.
If they could share any advice with fellow Hilltoppers, both highlighted the importance of asking questions and connecting with professors.
"If we hadn't felt comfortable enough to ask, we never would have done this. You have to take the initiative and connect with professors," shared Cole.
Adams is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in studio art with a concentration in painting, along with a bachelor’s degree in theatre, while Cole graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in studio art.
Learn more about the WKU Department of Art & Design at wku.edu/art