Brooklyn artist Katie Merz is transforming the Ursinus
smokestacklocated outside of the facilities buildinginto a dynamic mural that tells students stories through unique iconography. It will become a permanent fixture on the campus and serve as an enduring tribute to the Ursinus experience.
The project began in recognition of the Class of 2020, whichlike the rest of the Ursinus communitytransitioned to online learning in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The class did not get to experience an in-person commencement in May, but its members submitted memories to Merz, who is translating them into the visual elements that now adorn the smokestack.
This process was really organic because I didnt know a lot about Ursinus, Merz says. I have pages and pages of interviews [with students] that I have broken down into symbols. But the more Im actually here, the more I get it. I love this place. Everyone is gentle and genuine. It amazes me.
She also is incorporating powerful symbols of social change brought upon by racial injustices, and is including a memorial to Aidan Inteso 24, a first-year student and Abele Scholar who passed away September 13.
Merzs art is distinctive in that she uses various symbols, shapes, iconography and rebuswhich combines the use of illustrated pictures with individual letters to depict wordsto tell stories. The daughter of architects, she says she has been painting in this style for four years and says it exploded by accident during a residency in Nebraska when she translated a favorite poem into hieroglyphs.
I would start breaking down a word into rebus, she says. Lewis Carroll would write to Alice Little in rebus. And I thought, This is the way I read. She began using the style and has since created murals on the interior and exterior of buildings.
I always thought there was more to a word than just the letters, she says.
At Urisnus, Merz is inspired by the inquiry-driven approach to the Quest core curriculum and the search for knowledge through questions. She also said the smokestack is unlike any other surface shes painted.
Theres no one point to look at, she says. Wherever you are is where you see it. It reminds me of Trajans Column in Rome because it tells a story. Its a spectacle of storytelling. I want people to stop and want to get closer; to put together a meaning for themselves that different than what anyone else sees.