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A masterpiece 132 years in the making

February 8, 2007

Setting foot onto the main floor of the new University Center for the first time, students may notice the modern architecture as well as the retro-color schemes, the numerous flags from around the globe and wonder if they’re still on the UW-River Falls campus.

Such bewilderment quickly subsides once in view of the mural of several architectural landmarks that have been part of the UWRF landscape at some point in time.

Walking down the stairwell to the retail dining area, another mural, this one of all of the UWRF logos dating back to the 1900s, adorns the south wall.

Rita Zawislak-Brandt of Student Services is the artist responsible for the murals.

She said Gregg Heinselman, director of Student Services and Programs, came up with the idea for a mural of UWRF logos “to promote University pride and spirit of our campus.”

Heinselman already had some experience in designing murals to cover large spaces.

“I did a project like this at a previous institution in their student union,” Heinselman said, adding that that particular piece had received positive feedback.
After the walls went up and the décor was in place in the University Center, Heinselman said he noticed something was amiss.

“Ok, there’s a big flat wall,” he said of his reaction to the building during a walk-through.

Heinselman said he knew the dining area downstairs was going to be a popular place for students, faculty and staff and there needed to be some artistic touches made.

“We wanted it to be a fun, active zone in the building,” he said.

Before committing to the task, Heinselman said he wanted to recruit Zawislak-Brandt and get her on board before proceeding with plans for the spaces.
“I had approached Rita and asked her if she could do it,” he said, to which she agreed.

When the plans began, Heinselman said they had originally wanted to incorporate the UWRF seals and logos into the building mural, formally deemed the Heritage Hall Mural.

Due to the obscure location where the Heritage Hall Mural was to be, Heinselman said the decision to gather data about the seals and logos and create a separate mural was made.

Heinselman said he had mentioned the idea to some students and senior Jim Vierling told him he had written a paper on the history of Falcon logos for a class, which was a big help.

The design for the logo mural changed several times during the planning stages, Heinselman said. Finally, Zawislak-Brandt came up with a spherical display for the logos, which was the most aesthetically pleasing of all the designs.

The center of the mural was originally going to be just left white until Heinselman came up with an idea to make use of the space.

“I added [the Pledge Song] to the center layout because Gregg said [it] would be nice,” Zawislak-Brandt said.

The painting of the logo mural took nearly 70 hours for Zawislak-Brandt, along with some help from her family, to complete during Thanksgiving break.

“My daughter, Colette, was home from school, so I put her to work on Friday and Saturday,” Zawislak-Brandt said. “[It] took me until Tuesday to complete.”

Students can appreciative the hours Zawislak-Brandt put into the murals to make the University Center a more pleasant environment.

“Rita did an excellent job with the murals,” senior Katie Bollig said. “I know she put in a lot of hard work.”

Zawislak-Brandt completed the Heritage Hall Mural during winter break. She said that some students and staff members may not be familiar with some of the buildings depicted in the mural since a couple of them were demolished or destroyed.

Buildings depicted in the mural are the Normal School, Hathorn Cottage, Ames Teacher Education, Hagestad Hall, North Hall and South Hall.

Zawislak-Brandt said plans are underway for the installation of a plaque which will identify each of the buildings in the mural and include a brief description of the historical significance of each structure.

Walking through the hallways or up and down the stairwells of the University Center, one will notice a number of black-and-white photo prints hanging on the walls.

Heinselman said Zawislak-Brandt came up with the idea to decorate the corridors with old photographs. “You don’t see them in a lot of student centers,”

Heinselman said, adding that historical photos are generally found in a library environment.

When deciding on which photographs to use in the building, Heinselman said they tried to find ones that made a statement.

“We wanted to show student involvement throughout the years,” he said, referencing the athletic photographs.

Other photographs were enhanced to make them more artistic. On some of the pictures of dance theater, Zawislak-Brandt reversed the negative to make it less of a photo and more of an artistic print, Heinselman said.

Heinselman said the most important aspect of the University Center is the welcoming nature of the space. Most people grow up living in a house in which the walls are covered with family photos.

“We want students to feel very much at home,” Heinselman said. “This is your living room.”