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Colorful History of UCR on the Walls Underneath Highway 60


Colorful History of UCR on the Walls Underneath Highway 60

(June 7, 2000)

Citrus, dance, photography, Native Americans, a newly-discovered protein and a hydrogen vehicle all have roles in the history of the University of California, Riverside. Now they appear in living color in the Gluck Gateway Mural Project taking shape below the cars whizzing by on Highway 60.

Bay Area artist John Wehrle has spent many 12-hour days painting the 190-foot length of the south freeway support wall at University Avenue with images of faculty, students and familiar symbols of UCR's past and present.

Wehrle wears earplugs to block out the noise of cars roaring by above and beside him as he crouches next to the wall or climbs metal scaffolding with paintbrushes and small plastic containers of a specialized pigment flown in from Germany.

This 16-foot tall piece of art is funded by the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation, and designed to provide a painted "gateway" between UCR and the city of Riverside. The south wall mural, depicting UCR's history, will be complete by the end of July, Wehrle said, along with the overpass facades facing traffic. The north wall mural is designed to tell the story of Riverside, from the days of Eliza Tibbetts' first navel orange tree to the gleaming engine of the Metrolink. That side will be finished by early 2001, Wehrle said.

On the UCR side, portraits of people and buildings are taking shape, with more color and depth added each day. In most cases, the people chosen to represent UCR's history are not even aware of their new status as symbols of campus history.

"Am I really?" asked novelist Susan Straight, UCR professor of creative writing, when she heard she is pictured sitting on an open book with her two oldest daughters, Gaila and Delphine. "Well I guess it's appropriate since I've been running around this campus since I was a little girl." Straight, in fact, climbed up the outside of the carillon tower as a child, just for fun.

Noel Keen, a professor of plant pathology who helped discover the structure of the protein, pectate lyase, is clearly visible, though not yet painted. In person, however, he is a fairly colorful character.

"In fifty years they'll say, 'Who the devil is that? Some old turkey,'" he quipped. His insistence that he has done nothing to deserve a permanent place in the mural is humility talking. He is one of a handful of the campus' senior scientists who have been named Fellows of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Someone gave me a big pile of UCR magazines and photos and I just started designing," Wehrle explained. "In the end, how do you choose?" Members of a design review committee, which included people from both the university and the larger committee, made suggestions for changes before he started painting.

Recognizable already on the UCR side are Rupert and Jeannette Costo, a couple who helped found the campus in 1954 and then donated a large collection of Native American writings and tapes, now part of a special library collection. They stand inside a painted arch, with children playing at their feet and the carillon tower in the background.

Christena Schlundt, a founding faculty member in dance, leans against another arch watching a modern dance performance. A photographer shoots a picture of the same scene, representing in one tableau the importance of the UCR/California Museum of Photography and the campus' Ph.D. program in dance history, the only one of its kind in the nation.

In another arch, a young Alfred M. Boyce, a former director of the Citrus Experiment Station, examines a bigger than life-size navel orange. Another arch shows Joseph Norbeck, current director of the Center for Environmental Research and Technology, standing next to a floating hydrogen vehicle.

C. Michael Webster, vice chancellor for administration, suggested the idea of a mural near campus, according to Michael Beck, director of the Office of New Initiatives and Economic Development. The mural's $73,000 cost is paid through UCR's existing community arts grant from the Gluck Foundation. Over the past four years the Gluck Foundation has invested $2.4 million to make the arts more accessible to the local community.

Wehrle, in fact, has already spoken to several classes of middle school and high school art students about his murals located throughout California, including "Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo" on the Santa Ana Freeway support wall in Los Angeles, commissioned for the Los Angeles Olympics. A one-time combat artist in Vietnam, Wehrle's 25 years of public art has been recognized with awards and citations in books on public art. He earned the UCR commission in a competitive design process, over nine other artists.

"Wehrle is a world-class muralist who has really captured the spirit of the campus and the community, said Patricia O'Brien, dean of UCR's College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. "The mural epitomizes the community arts outreach that we are doing. I smile every time I see it."

Pictures of the mural are available online at http://nied.ucr.edu/projects/gateway.shtml


The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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