Creating Ephemeral Art is an Enduring Tradition in Burton-Judson Houses

Chalk it up to house tradition: Murals line the brick walls of Burton-Judson, inspired by sources from Degas to Sherlock Holmes.

By Brooke Nagler

Brooke Nagler / The Chicago Maroon

ARTS

  /  

FEATURE

  /  

Nov. 1, 2016

Students find ways to make their dorm rooms into homes, but some also bring that creativity into the common areas. The brick walls of Burton-Judson Courts are lined with chalk murals inspired by Degas, Warhol, and Sherlock Holmes.  

The art is an adaptation of the University house tradition to decorate the dorms before the first-years arrive. Most of the other dorms are lined with cut-out paper decorations related to the house theme. The detailed chalk art in B-J is unique.

In the days leading up to orientation, the house brings to life a theme that they plan over the summer. The execution of the artwork is largely a community effort, with house Resident Heads, Assistant Resident Heads (RAs), Orientation Aides (O-Aides), ex-pats, and even members of other houses lending a hand. Although there is no formal time to continue the work during the year, students find chalk and add their own marks; the art evolves along with the house.

B-J’s Salisbury House uses the art to add energy to its otherwise dark stairwells. This year, Salisbury residents chose to decorate their house with pictures of the other dorms. Sebastian Fernandez-Mulligan, a second-year Salisbury O-Aide, considers the chalk art a way to welcome the first-year students as they enter their new living space.

image

Salisbury House: Max Palevsky Residential Commons as depicted by Sebastian Fernandez-Mulligan.

Brooke Nagler / The Chicago Maroon

B-J’s Chamberlin House took a more clandestine approach to its wall decorations. With a theme entitled “Chamberlin of Secrets,” you would think it chose to decorate with Harry Potter symbols. But the house instead decided to display different forms of secrecy. Chamberlin residents created images relating to secret identities, conspiracy theories, and spies.  

Chamberlin has a history of choosing themes that are out of the ordinary. As third-year RA Ashley Estes explained, “We are quirky. We are not afraid to push boundaries.”

image

Chamberlin House: O-Aides and other house leaders chalked the walls with an homage to spy films.

Brooke Nagler / The Chicago Maroon

Another house transformed its living space into a time-warp through art history. In keeping with the tradition of making the theme a pun on the house name, Linn-Mathews has titled this year’s theme “Linn-pressionism and Abstract Art,” with the Linn side of the house representing Impressionism and the Mathews side portraying abstract art. This title fits the house’s wid array of pieces ranging from a representation of Van Gogh’s “Bouquet of Sunflowers,” an Impressionist painting from 1881, recreated by Amber Estes and Rachel Hildebrand, to a depiction of Andy Warhol’s iconic series of Marilyn Monroe prints, done by Hildebrand with neon chalk.

The pieces are arranged chronologically starting on the ground floor, creating a visual representation of the progression of art as one climbs the stairs. The pieces are accompanied by phrases like “This is not a wall” and “The Goose is Loose,” a nod to iconic painters. The grand finale on the highest floor is a large and colorful depiction of a ballerina made by Dee Nitz, a fourth-year O-Aide.

image

Linn-Mathews House: Inspired by Impressionism, Dee Nitz's ballerina is stairwell's pièce de résistance.

Brooke Nagler / The Chicago Maroon

 The works provide comfort for students as they go through college. “There’s some sort of familiarity you live on your floor and you see the same pieces every day,” Nitz said. 

Although the space seems like a gallery, it is not meant evoke a museum necessarily. It is “dirtier than a museum…. It’s a place for things to happen,” Nitz explained.

The hard work and outstanding results of the project sadly cannot last due to the evanescent nature of chalk artwork. Amber Estes, RA of Linn-Mathews, explained that the pieces turned out better than expected and she would be saddened to take them down. She said there is a possibility that they will keep the art up and add-on until the walls are all covered. 

image

Linn-Mathews House: Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol by Rachel Hildebrand.

Brooke Nagler / The Chicago Maroon

As Nitz said, “Change is scary and exciting and new and hard and fun…you have these memories of these things that you have lived for the year and you have to wash them away…[but] then there’s a new ownership.”