Oct 9, 2015

Rededication ceremony to honor restoration of Seigfred mural

Hannah Wintucky
The Post
October 8, 2015

The mural by Aethelred Eldridge
Professor Emeritus Æthelred Eldridge has preached to The Grateful Dead and has painted a mural that has been a part of Ohio University’s history, in one way or another, for nearly 50 years.

Originally painted in 1966, the mural is located on the northeast wall of Seigfred Hall and is in its fourth iteration. A rededication ceremony has been planned for Friday.

Arts for Ohio, the group that allows free student attendance to on-campus arts events, restored the mural during the summer of 2015 and enlisted printmaking graduate students Amanda Morris and Barry O’Keefe to help.

“It was a lot of fun,” Morris said. “It was interesting working that close with the artwork. It made me understand who he was. It was copied exactly to hold the integrity of the artwork.”

Because the mural reflects much of Eldridge as a person, both Morris and O’Keefe said it is hard to separate the two.

Born in 1930 in a small town in Michigan, Eldridge came to teach at OU after leaving the U.S. Navy. After a trip to Africa in his first year of teaching, his life was changed forever, according to a documentary on Eldridge calledÆthelred the Unready.His paintings are recognizable by the white background, with distinctive black overlay of pictures and text.

“I got divorced. Nobody would talk to me because I was a pariah,” Eldridge said in the documentary. “This is the last half of my life.”

Eldridge’s avant-garde way of painting encouraged OU's then-President Vernon Alden to commission him in 1966 to paint a mural on Seigfred Hall in his traditional style.

“All of (Eldridge’s style) is influenced by the 19th century poet, printmaker, mystic William Blake,” Rosemarie Basile, an assistant professor and assistant director of student services in the School of Art, said. “It’s all based on Blake’s cosmology.”

William Blake, who wrote the pieces in Songs of Innocence and of Experience and painted ethereal pieces to accompany his poems, can be seen in all of Eldridge’s work.

His admiration for Blake was so great, Eldridge even founded Golgonooza — the Church of William Blake — on his property just outside of Athens. It has been visited by artists such as The Grateful Dead and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, according to the documentary.

Since the mural’s commission in ‘66, four editions have come and gone, Basile said.

The first included human-like forms, which resembled a mix between the styles of Pablo Picasso and Michelangelo. It featured columns of text that referenced Blake’s works and Eldridge’s own witty remarks.

The second version featured columns of only text, further drawing from Eldridge’s love of Blake.

The third time it was redone, it featured different blocks of human-like illustrations surrounded by text.

The last iteration, which was done in 1987, has Aztec-like human figures and Eldridge’s traditional style.

After being subject to graffiti and exposure to the elements over the years, the mural fell into a state of disrepair.

O’Keefe, who was responsible for restoring most of the lettering on the mural, had to re-create the font that was originated by Eldridge himself. Morris recreated the human-like figures on the wall.

“The brush work is important,” O’Keefe said. “I studied the mural and used the decayed images left behind to create the text.”

Eldridge even stopped by during the restoration to see the work.

“Eldridge is a poet. I think it makes sense more when you know he’s a jokester,” O’Keefe said. “He makes literary references and uses puns and wordplay. You have to read the text aloud (on the mural) to understand it.”

A rededication ceremony will be held under the Seigfred Arch on Friday at 5 p.m. Alumnus Aaron Butler will perform, and refreshments will be available.

Eldridge will be present at the event.

“He was genuinely pleased that the mural was being restored,” Morris said. “The piece is a reflection of him. The way he sings and talks. … You can see more of him than anything else in the mural.”

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