For many years, the University Center in Harney Plaza has displayed a phoenix, a symbol of hope and rebirth. As the legend goes, this magical bird at the end of its life bursts into flames and is reborn from the ashes. This majestic symbol hardly gained any attention from the students or faculty on campus until visual arts professor Father Tom Lucas, became inspired one afternoon while looking at it and decided to collaborate with a small group of students over the summer to refurbish the symbol.
“I was walking by here at sunset and I saw how pretty the light was hitting the front of the building,” Lucas said “and I thought if we put something in the background of the phoenix, it would really make it pop.” After three weeks of work, the phoenix now has a glistening mosaic of green, gold, and red textured glass behind it.
Recent USF graduates Drew Hutcheson, Kelly Kawahara and Jovan Blake helped Lucas work on the portrait for three weeks in June. Lucas specifically sought after these students because he knew they were capable and dedicated to their work,. He also knew they were excited to get started. “Originally, I had thought it was just some banners he wanted done for some Jesuit convention,” Hutchenson said, “When he asked me if I wanted to help out on the mural I got pretty excited and jumped on the opportunity.” Though the team was excited to help, none of them understood the relatively simple yet tedious work involved in creating the piece. In fact, Kawahara was quite taken aback and nervous when she realized she would be working about fifty feet in the air on scaffolding for most of the project.
The project required a week of planning which involved measuring the area of the building they would be working on and carefully mapping out where to place the glass and which colors to use. “This is one of the more ancient art forms. Essentially it was the same technique that the ancient Romans used,” Lucas said. What followed was the repetitive task of cutting about fifteen hundred seven inch squares of glass and then carefully laying down the cement and the glass at the correct measurements. This part of the process took about two weeks. Lucas and the students worked long six-hour days on the scaffolding, to create the magnificent display of color and produce a symbol of the artistic achievements of the university.
Originally, Lucas had just planned to place green and gold squares in the mosaic in honor of the school’s colors, but he thought that a hint of stunning red glass would really make the whole piece catch fire when the sunlight hit the building as the sun set to the west. Also the image of catching fire accurately depicts the legend of the phoenix. Freshman Steven Yangwalks by the mosaic on a daily basis. “I think it’s an awesome piece of art. The fact that is a major symbol with a deeper meaning than just something cool to look at makes it very interesting,” Yang said.
Chloe Nakano, a sophomore living on-campus, tells of the difference between last year and this year with the new mural.
“If a person were to ask someone last year if they knew where the phoenix was, I doubt anyone would have known what they were talking about,” she said. “Now it’s a piece that really stands out to the whole campus because of its color and size. It’s truly amazing what Father Lucas has done with it.”