History in Hand: Pieces of the Pugh Mural

Taylor Madison, 11, clutches a core sample from the mural by John Pugh that graced the east-facing exterior wall of Taylor Hall until the building was demolished in late 2013. With Taylor is mom, alumna Kimberly Madison, and sister Kendall, 7.

When the University decided to try to save fragments of the John Pugh mural Academe after Taylor Hall came down last winter, it was not certain how they would look.

It turns out the pieces of that iconic Chico artwork are intriguing-looking mementos. 

“After discussing several ideas with campus personnel on how to salvage the mural on the side of Taylor Hall, it was agreed that certain sections would be kept,” said Allison Otto, vice president/business development for Otto Construction, the contractor on the arts and humanities building project. “A door displaying a portion of the mural as well as a saw-cut section with the artist’s signature were preserved. In addition, numerous 3” x 4” cylindrical sections were cored from various areas in the mural, which could be used by the University to give away as memorabilia—each with a unique, abstract piece of the larger painting.”

The cylindrical pieces were placed in storage, and this summer, 2014 art graduate Kyle Campbell sanded and polished 81 pieces of the mural to distribute to the public. (Some other core pieces were set aside to be distributed at the new arts and humanities building opening in 2016.) The sanding and polishing process brought out interesting features of the concrete that lay beneath the mural and could be seen on the sides of the core samples.

Thanks to the help of the Chico Enterprise-Record and other local media, word got out that pieces of the John Pugh mural were available. Starting in December of last year and continuing through the spring, a list formed of 141 campus and community people requesting a piece of the mural.

Stories of affection for the mural frequently accompanied the requests. People had written a class paper on the mural, met someone special by the mural, walked by the mural every day to work. Lifetime Chicoans, far-flung alumni, retired and current faculty, and staff all reported falling under the spell of John Pugh’s trompe-l'œil art technique. (As many on campus know, the artist is recreating the mural for the new arts and humanities building.)

In his request for a mural piece, University Public Events’ Dan Goodsell, who frequently shepherds guest performers around campus, reported how he saw firsthand what an impression the mural made. “Almost without exception, every performance artist and speaker who has visited Laxson Auditorium in the last 12 years has asked me about the mural,” he said.

close up photo of mural piecesSince there were more requests than mural pieces available, people were contacted based on where they were in the queue. Once the mementos of the famous mural were distributed, recipients were delighted with how they looked.

Probably no recipient was more pleased than Taylor Madison, an 11-year-old daughter of Chico State alums with a very Chico State name. Her parents, Kim and Rick Madison, also have a 7-year-old daughter, Kendall. Do you detect a theme? “It wasn’t until our youngest was born that someone asked us if we named them for Chico State buildings,” said Kim. “Honestly, until that moment we hadn’t realized we’d done that.”

The girls grew to enjoy having campus namesakes, and had their photos taken at their respective buildings. “Taylor cried when she heard her ‘hall’ was being torn down,” said Kim. But when Kim and Rick told her she would get a piece of the famous Taylor Hall mural, she was thrilled.

Taylor isn’t sure yet what she’ll do with the memento, except to say she “wants to keep it forever.” And little sister Kendall is relieved to hear her building isn’t going anywhere.

Joe Wills, Public Affairs and Publications 

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