MC student art dedicated at federal courthouse

April 18, 2012
Contact: Chloe Kennedy, News and New Media Writer

Nine large-scale paintings by nine Maryville College art students were dedicated April 13 at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Federal Courthouse in Knoxville.

The ceremony included remarks by C. Johnathan Sitzlar '01, supervisory property manager with the U.S. General Services Administration; U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan and Maryville College President Dr. William T. “Tom” Bogart.

“Maryville College is not only proud of the art its students have created for public viewing, it’s proud that the College was selected for a student volunteer program that is the first and only active partnership between the General Services Administration and higher education that promotes and fosters the fine arts and continuous learning engagements,” Bogart said. “And we’re doubly proud that 2001 Maryville College alumnus Johnathan Sitzlar had something to do with this, too.”

The oil on canvas paintings “celebrate indigenous wildflowers of the Smokies,” according to MC Professor of Art Dr. Carl Gombert. Each five-foot-tall painting depicts a different wildflower that is native to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This is the third piece of public art created by Maryville College students for a federal building. “Evocation of the Smokies,” a 28-by-6-foot mural, was dedicated Sept. 26, 2005, in the Howard H. Baker Jr. Federal Courthouse. “We the People,” a mural measuring four feet in height and over 100 feet in length, was dedicated Aug. 15, 2007, in the lobby of Knoxville’s John J. Duncan Federal Building.

The murals were created through the Student Volunteer Program of General Services Administration (GSA), which serves as a centralized procurement and property management agency for the federal government.

Maryville College and GSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2003 to “create a continuous learning/business partnership between the College and the General Services Administration for mutual concern and benefit.” Specifically, the partnership calls for GSA to share federal space and resources for the purpose of displaying art while Maryville College is to provide “creative student volunteers to develop design concepts and share innovative perspectives on various GSA assignments for enhancement of federal work environments.”

Sitzlar called the April 13 ceremony a “celebration” of both the successful partnership and the “phenomenal work” of the art students.

“This partnership enhances our community, and it reminds us of the value that Maryville College and its students add to the community,” he said.

GSA Regional Administrator Shyam Reddy was not able to participate in the ceremony, but Sitzlar read his prepared remarks.

“The installation of student artwork in the Howard Baker, Jr. Courthouse demonstrates GSA’s commitment to enhancing the vibrancy of American civic life,” Sitzlar read. “GSA is fortunate to collaborate with partners who are so dedicated to the ongoing development of the Knoxville community.”

The idea for the wildflower project originated about eight years ago, when students were asked to propose several ideas for murals. In selecting the nine flowers to paint, students consulted with a field guide to wildflowers in the Smokies, as well as Maryville College Professor of Biology Dr. Paul Threadgill.

Over the years, students in Gombert’s painting classes have created the paintings, which have recently been installed in the Howard H. Baker Jr. Federal Courthouse. Students involved in the project include MC senior Katie Brestel, Yvonne Wenta-Wells ’06 (who submitted the winning proposal), Krista Hilzinger ’09, Alicia Ray ’09, Kate Poeppelman ’06, Ginger Frye ’07, Brett Jacobsen Brewer ‘10, Stephani Richardson ’10 and Jenna Thorp ’10.

In 2010, MC art students completed a mural for Union Grove Middle School, and they have also created murals for Farragut Presbyterian Church and local nonprofit Mane Support.

Gombert said that the partnership with GSA offers a rare opportunity for undergraduate art students.

“It gives them a project-based education that’s invaluable,” he said.

Gombert pointed out that in addition to improving their art skills, students also learn other important, practical skills, such as project management, conducting research and public relations.

The student volunteer program is ongoing, and Gombert said students would be presenting proposals for art in other spaces in local federal buildings managed by GSA.

Brestel, who is graduating this May with a bachelor of fine arts degree, painted a Gray’s Lily, or Lilium grayi, for the project. She said she selected the flower because she had “never seen anything like it.”

“The Gray’s Lily is unique to Appalachia and can only grow in higher elevations in grassy, treeless meadows,” she said. “It was a rare pleasure to capture, and I’m sure seeing it in its natural habitat is an even rarer sight now.”

Brestel said the opportunity to create public art for a federal building is a confidence booster – and a boost on her resume.

“It was an honor to have the privilege of creating something so visually positive for the Howard H. Baker Jr. Federal Courthouse, and it is a greater honor still to know it will be enjoyed by the public,” she said.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.