In blue, green, and hints of yellow, Isabella Tuell, a second-year undergraduate Porter affiliate, paints the latest addition to the Porter College murals. Featuring a mother whale with its baby, her mural depicts what most college freshmen go through — growing up and moving out of their homes.
Family and adult life are fused in Tuell’s painting. The whales represent the days she spent whale watching with her grandmother as a child, while the blues and greens in the mural’s background stem from her freshman dorm’s view of Monterey Bay.
“I wanted that image of the mother whale pushing the baby whale up, because I think for all college kids that imagery is [relatable], where your parents kind of lead you to a point where you can go out and be independent and swim on your own,” Tuell said. “Since I’m away from them, I kind of wanted a reminder every day I passed the mural that my parents are with me.”
Every year, Porter affiliates are encouraged to submit their visions for potential murals, then vote for their favorites when submissions are displayed at the Porter Dining Hall.
After seeing an announcement for the mural competition from the Porter Activities Office, Tuell set out to paint her vision the night before it was due. Using all the colors on her palette, she painted until the crack of dawn. Tuell’s proposal was selected in winter 2019.
Her original idea was to make the project into a community mural. The background of the mural is painted in a patchwork quilt pattern, where Porter affiliates would have been able to add in their own art in each square.
“I was thinking that if I was a bystander, I would want to join. That’s why it’s a quilt,” Tuell said. “I think of the quilt as a way of bringing people together.”
As expected, COVID-19 not only changed this vision, but also slowed down the installation process for both Tuell and Porter College. By the time the mural was selected and Tuell was contacted, the pandemic had swept through the country, delaying the process for a year.
Porter College affiliates typically choose a new mural to be installed every year. Pre-COVID, most visions for murals were submitted in the fall quarter, selected by students in the winter, and painted in the spring.
“The thing about Porter murals is that they’re entirely student-selected democratically through a little ballot box, pre-COVID, in the dining hall,” said Porter College’s Programs Assistant Coordinator Althea Pearl Carlson. “That’s the fun of it.”
Having the opportunity to select what mural gets painted allows affiliates to connect with the art that surrounds them. The students get to pick how they are represented.
James Blaine, the Porter College programs coordinator, mentioned that Porter’s goal in encouraging students to enter into the mural selection process is to ensure that the art speaks to the affiliates.
“We want students to think about how [the mural] is going to translate and how it is going to speak in four years or eight years,” Blaine said. “People are going to see this after [the artist] is gone and that art will end up representing that college year.”
The murals, like Tuell’s, are a reflection of Porter College and its slogan “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” — “life is short, art endures.”
CHP is publishing this story during the week of June 7 as part of a backlog on unpublished content from spring 2021. The article was originally written on May 26.