Inspired by the photographs submitted by the campus community, artist and visual storyteller Jessica Turtle creates a mural in Terrence Murphy Hall on the Minneapolis Campus on February 22, 2024. The intent of the mural is to share our collective experiences of the natural environment around us. The project is a collaboration between the Claritas Initiative on beauty, goodness, and truth and the Office of Sustainability Initiatives.
Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

The St. Thomas Palette: Murals Weave Together Campus Beauty

Visual storyteller Jessica Turtle doesn’t like to create art alone. And for her latest project, Turtle was invited to collaborate with the entire University of St. Thomas community.

Turtle recently put the finishing touches on two campus murals as part of the On Care for Our Common Home: Community Art Project. Each mural, inspired by photographs from the campus community, showcases the natural environment of St. Thomas.

In the lobby of the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library on the St. Paul campus, there is a work that features a stag beetle, a brilliant sunset and a famous Tommie squirrel. Meanwhile, on the second floor of Terrence Murphy Hall in Minneapolis, a bumblebee, robin’s eggs, and a pair of commuting bicyclists take center stage.

In fall 2023, students, faculty and staff were invited to share photographs that inspired wonder, joy or a sense of interconnectedness with the St. Thomas community’s shared home. Turtle used those photographs to design murals on each campus, and this spring, community members picked up a brush and painted, together.

“Interconnection is my jam,” Turtle said. “I’m very excited to be part of any project that explores how people live in their environment and brings attention to all the amazing little things that we don’t always notice.”

On Care for Our Common Home: Community Art Project
Sustainability Artist-in-Residence Jessica Turtle works on a mural in the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library lobby. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

A partnership of the Claritas Initiative and the Office of Sustainability Initiatives’ Sustainability Arts Initiative, the community art project was designed to invite the campus community to explore, observe and encounter the natural environment on and nearby campus, to see it with new eyes and experience its beauty in new ways.

“Often the environment is talked about or framed as a problem, but the environment sustains us and sustains our lives,” Maria Dahmus said, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives and Sustainable Communities Partnership. “It’s been a joy to learn how other people experience our campus and how its meaning is interwoven into our lives. This is a foundation for caring for our common home.”

More than 150 Tommies submitted photographs to help create the murals, while another 80 volunteered to paint them.

“I hope these murals are a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us, and I hope they help nudge all of us to take time to experience that beauty and reflect on our interconnections with all life,” said Wendy Wyatt, vice provost for academic affairs and founding co-director of the Claritas Initiative.

A community celebration and artist talk is planned for Tuesday, April 23. The entire St. Thomas community is invited to learn more about the community art project and Turtle’s process for creating the murals. The event begins at 4 p.m. in Room 104 of the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library.