Mural Review Committee Runs with New Idea

Former Miss Native American UCO Savannah Waters speaks to the audience during the Land Run mural replacement forum on Jan. 30 in the Nigh University Center Ballrooms. The forum was hosted to develop ideas and include the community in the decision for the mural’s replacement artwork. (Ryan Naeve/The Vista)

A review committee for the University of Central Oklahoma’s controversial Land Run mural unveiled the concept art for the replacement mural at a community forum held last Tuesday in the Nigh University Center Ballrooms.

Deriving inspiration from the 2017 Starbucks holiday cup design, the initial concept for the new mural will feature a group of diverse individuals holding hands. The mural itself will focus on the arms and hands of the individuals, showing only from the elbow down.

“We came up with a design that really needs to be refined, but we’ve kind of taken that first step for you that would get you into the ballpark of what that image would look like,” said Bob Palmer, co-chair for the Mural Review Committee and painter of the original mural.

Palmer said each of the arms would be painted in a skin tone that would represent different racial or ethnic background to showcase the diversity and inclusivity that is the foundation of UCO’s campus.

Additional concepts could incorporate tattoos, wristbands and other designs with symbols that would expand representation to include diverse religious affiliations, the LGBTQ community or even create connections with UCO.

“I kind of like, as an artist, to look at what people wear on the wrist, or even removing the sleeves, any kind of tattoos on the arm,” Palmer said. “Or even what other things such as jewelry, rings, all kinds of things that symbolize what you stand for or who you are.”

Another difference from the initial Starbucks concept the committee discussed was to replace the hearts that filled the negative space between each pair of hands. While a strong symbol of inclusivity, Palmer said that hearts might be too general of a symbol for what the university was looking for in the new mural.

The committee suggested that the hearts could be replaced with symbols that had a greater connection with campus. However, not all members agreed that the hearts would be out of place in the new design.

“I really love the way this design feels, the rhythm and humanity of it all,” said Linda Skinner, a member of the review committee. “I’m going to tell you, I would keep the hearts. The point of everything we have talked about is love, honoring the gift of life, living in peace and honoring the biodiversity of the cosmos.”

The committee also solicited suggestions from the audience. The most popular recommendations centered on keeping the new mural historically significant by either incorporating visible transitions through UCO’s history or famous Oklahomans related to academic fields.

“One thing that happens when you tear something down is that people have a pride involved in it that can be hurt. Oklahomans, in some way, are proud of having established this state,” said Janelle Austin, a modern languages major. “On the other side, there was a lot of loss and hurt, and we don’t want to take away history and not replace it with something to be proud of.”

To help preserve the mural’s historical significance, the committee said that the Land Run Mural would be photographed and archived with the history of its creation and subsequent controversy.

However, the committee said that the goal of the new mural was to step away from historical depictions and to that end they would probably not be incorporating historical elements into the design in order to keep it more representative.

“We want something that is just very representational of just everything and that will give us the opportunity to represent so many different diverse people on this campus in just one mural, and I really think that Dr. Palmer can do that,” said Gypsy Hogan, UCO’s publications editor.

The plan to replace the Land Run Mural was announced during a Native American Student Association meeting last month. Located on the southern wall of UCO’s Communications Building, the mural was painted by Palmer in 1994 at the request of former UCO President George Nigh.

Depicting cowboys, wagons and a photographer at the outset of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, the mural has been a subject of controversy within the Native American community. Native Americans have criticized the mural for creating a romanticized image of a moment in history where their ancestors were forced from their lands to make room for incoming settlers.

This was one of the factors that the committee considered while selecting a replacement concept for the mural, according to assistant professor John Maisch.

“What I see in this work is how UCO at least strives to be inclusive and to create an environment that is inclusive and strives to welcome all,” Maisch said. “The only thing that I would add is that in addition to skin color and race, I would like to see a mural that represents the differences we have in religion, sexual orientation, age, and both physical and mental disabilities.”

While the committee said there is currently no final starting date for the new project, they did confirm that their goal is to have the project begun before the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in April.

The cost for the new mural has not been determined, although much of the work will be performed by Palmer and UCO student, faculty and staff volunteers, according to Lindsey Churchill, director of UCO’s Women’s Research Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center.

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