Public art projects offer “real world” experience to MC art students

Public art projects offer “real world” experience to MC art students

Dec. 21, 2015

Maryville College art students have transformed the blank walls in two Peninsula Hospital rooms into bright, cheerful scenes for patients and staff to enjoy.

Earlier this month, students in Dr. Carl Gombert’s Art 321: Drawing 3 class designed, painted and installed a mural in the children’s room of the hospital. The mural includes a colorful landscape scene and the C.S. Lewis quote: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

In fall 2014, Gombert’s art students turned one of Peninsula’s rooms into an aquarium by covering the walls with large tropical fish and plants on a bright blue background.

In addition to the Peninsula Hospital murals, Gombert and his students have been involved in many public art projects over the years. Gombert, who is a professor of art at MC, said public art projects are important exercises for his students because they offer “real world” experience. In addition to improving their art skills, students also learn practical skills, such as developing proposals, making presentations, negotiating multiple viewpoints, conducting research, working through complicated project management scenarios and managing budgets – experience they’ll need as professional artists.

“Public art as an educational experience for undergraduates is incredibly valuable because it teaches those skills and gets students to think about the role of art as a means of public communication, it allows them to help revitalize run-down spaces … there’s any number of benefits,” Gombert said.

Gombert added that public art projects teach students difficult but necessary lessons.

“They may face criticism – it may well be that somebody doesn’t like the art,” he said. “It’s also important to teach them that as artists, 90 percent of their career is rejection, and if four of them take proposals, at best three of them go home disappointed – those are important teachable skills, too. It’s different from a class assignment where everybody does the assignment. The competitive nature of the arts business is something that has to be taught as well.”

Other public art projects include:

  • “Evocation of the Smokies” is a 38-by-6-foot mural that was designed and painted by four MC art students in the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Federal Courthouse in Knoxville. The mural, which was dedicated in September 2005, features a Regionalist-style depiction of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surrounding region.
  • “We the People,” a mural created by five MC art students, was dedicated in August 2007 in the lobby of the John J. Duncan Federal Building in Knoxville. The giant mural, measuring four feet in height and over 90 feet in length, was installed in three pieces along three second-floor walls that are open to the lobby below. The wording “We the People” appears on the middle wall, and the words to the preamble to the Constitution run the length of the mural at the bottom of the three pieces. Silhouetted against the red and white stripes of a waving American flag are 13 people of various ages participating in various activities – from fishing to building to serving in the military.
  • In 2007, 10 upper-level MC art students created a three-paneled mural for Farragut Presbyterian Church’s middle school youth meeting rooms. The mural, which was inspired by graffiti art, introduces more contemporary versions of the PC(USA) logo, emphasizes the verse from 1 Timothy 4:12 and identifies the space – “Middle School Youth.”
  • MC art students created a mural for Union Grove Middle School in 2010. The mural, which consists of 10 silhouettes of students, is roughly eight feet tall and spans 42 feet on a wall in the school’s cafeteria. The silhouettes are designed to depict middle-school-aged students who are lined up outside of the cafeteria, and each figure is unique. Above the silhouettes is the school’s mission statement, “Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow.”
  • Nine large-scale oil on canvas paintings by nine MC art students were dedicated during a ceremony in April 2012 in the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Federal Courthouse in Knoxville. Each five-foot-tall painting depicts a different wildflower that is native to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • In summer 2014, Dr. Carl Gombert created “the world’s largest rubber stamp mural” at Coulter Grove Intermediate School in Maryville. The mural is 38 feet, 4 inches long and is stamped with many shapes, including brooms, butterflies, gingerbread men, hawks, shoes and Mr. Spock. Gombert installed a similar piece on one of the walls in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ art and recital hall building.

By Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”