Aethelred Eldridge Mural restoration
Restoration of the Aethelred Eldridge Mural has been completed. (Bryan Gibson/WOUB)

Beloved OU Mural Gets a Facelift

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A much-loved Ohio University landmark is receiving a little TLC this summer.

Two OU printmaking students, Amanda Morris and Barry O’Keefe, have restored The Aethelred Eldridge Mural, located outside Seigfred Hall.

“You always worry when somebody else besides the artist is touching up or putting new paint on an original artwork,” said School of Art + Design Director David LaPalombara. “But what these students did is absolutely crucial, historic preservation. And they’re thinking of it that way.”

Work has been completed on the mural but continues on the accompanying risers and sculptures — all the result of some detective work by LaPalombara and his staff.

“We’ve been doing some archival reconstruction of the history of the mural,” said LaPalombara. “According to some documentation, the first mural was made in 1965, commissioned by then-Ohio University President Vernon Alden. It was all figures and no text. Possibly in color.”

Aethelred Eldridge Mural, first version
Aethelred Eldridge Mural, first version (Ohio University School of Art + Design)
Aethelred Eldridge Mural, second version (Ohio University School of Art + Design)
Aethelred Eldridge Mural, second version (Ohio University School of Art + Design)

A second version of the mural followed years later, featuring six rows of text. A third version was a mix of images and text. The most recent version, painted in the 1980s, is also the most photographed version. Those photos have been invaluable during the restoration, according to LaPalombara.

“We have a very good hi-resolution photograph of the 1980s-era mural, pre-damage. Art conservationists, when they get a damaged painting, can reconstruct that image if they’ve got a good quality photograph,” he said.

Aethelred Eldridge Mural, version three (Ohio University School of Arts + Design)
Aethelred Eldridge Mural, third version (Ohio University School of Arts + Design)
The mural after restoration (Bryan Gibson/WOUB)
Aethelred Eldridge Mural, fourth version, after restoration (Bryan Gibson/WOUB)

The school also reached out to alumni and former Athens residents for photos of the mural. The feedback on the School of Art + Design Facebook page has been impressive, with many former students eager to share their memories.

“We’re getting responses from a lot of people who attended OU, and not just School of Art alumni,” said LaPalombara. “Comments like ‘This is where I met my wife.’ We’re getting a tremendous number of likes, shares and new friends. People are seeing this and responding.”

Of course, many alumni associate the Eldridge mural with the man himself, who started teaching at Ohio University in 1957 and predates what came to be known as the School of Art. Eldridge’s classes are the stuff of legend, attracting hundreds of non-majors year after year.

“Those classes in Mitchell Auditorium were huge…standing room only,” said LaPalombara. “I’d have to say Aethelred’s lectures were ‘performance art.’ He had a certain oratorical style, with a resonant, booming voice. But he’s one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. A gentle, kind soul who’s obviously very passionate about his art.”

And what does the artist think of the current restoration?

“He’s on board with it. He told the students, ‘I walked away from this years ago. Whatever you want to do is fine with me,” laughed LaPalombara.

Eldridge used regular store-bought paint for the 1980s version, which was easy to match for the restoration (funded by Arts for Ohio).

“We could tell before we started it was semi-gloss paint, so we took a paint chip to Lowe’s,” said LaPalombara. “Lowe’s computer matching system is very accurate, so the color match is perfect. This is the one instance where I thought other artists could come close to recreating exactly what the original artist intended.”

Now that the mural is completed, LaPalombara encourages the community to stop by and take a look at a restored piece of Athens history.

“Everyone seems to be thrilled,” he said. “I’ve seen prospective students with their parents, all snapping pictures. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me this summer, seeing this beautiful mural come back to life.”

Aethelred Eldridge Mural, fourth version, after restoration (Bryan Gibson/WOUB)
Aethelred Eldridge Mural, fourth version, after restoration (Bryan Gibson/WOUB)