As University of Virginia students return to Grounds this month, they’ll be welcomed by the words of a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and university professor.
“The world called, and I answered” — those words, imposed over an abstract-style mural that features bright and colorful arcs, waves and angles that span eight stories on the southwest wall of the Graduate Charlottesville hotel, will now overlook the Grounds of the university. Wrapping around a corner of the building, a small sliver of the mural that can be seen from East Main Street includes the entirety of the poem and a plaque that details the mural.
Organized by the Charlottesville Mural Project (CMP) as part of its Paint & Poetry series, the new mural is the third and largest mural of the series, accompanying other murals that can be seen at Charlottesville High School and Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet.
“Really good murals take into account the wall they are on, where they’re located, who sees them and how they see them,” said Maureen Brondyke, of the New City Arts Initiative, a local nonprofit that’s partnered with CMP for the Paint & Poetry series.
“Given the proximity of this mural to UVa, located on The Corner where so many students spend their time, we felt it was really important to feature a university poet, which brings us to Rita Dove,” Brondyke said, introducing the former Poet Laureate of the United States and Virginia at a mural dedication ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
Using the words from Dove’s poem “Testimonial,” Philadelphia-based muralist David Guinn spent almost two months transforming a facade of the newly renovated hotel into a work of art.
Dove said she floated about 10 of her poems to Guinn, saying she chose works she could see captivating anyone who would come across the mural.
Awaiting the selection, she said she hoped Guinn would use “Testimonial,” her illustrious poem that was first published in 1999.
“I hoped he would pick this one for many reasons,” she said. “I think one of the main reasons is because I think it applies to all of us — at some point in our lives, we hit a point where a door opens, or you see it slammed in your face, or you need to make a door.”
“But the moment when your life stands before you, you say ‘I’ve got to step up my game. This is the moment I need to address.’”
Dove added that the message of the mural and her poem can apply to anyone, regardless of whether or not they’re a university student.
She said the location is perfect, “… not just for [UVa] students, but for anyone who is walking down that street, with Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village behind them, toward what we call ‘the real world,’ where everyone works and strives.”
Guinn, a Columbia University graduate whose more than three dozen public murals can be seen all over the world, from Baltimore to Amman, Jordan, said Dove’s poem reminds him of the sense of optimism he felt when he graduated from college.
“The poem begins with ‘Back when the world was new.’ To me, that evoked this moment, this elemental time of very simple things; shapes and colors,” he said.
“I wanted to create something in an abstract language that evoked that time before things had a chance to differentiate themselves into the complicated world we live in today.”
Ross McDermott, the former CMP director who oversaw the project before stepping down in May, said he personally chose Guinn because of his impressive portfolio. After selecting him in early 2015, he said he reached out to Dove.
Regarding Guinn, McDermott said he’s “always admired his work.” As for Dove, McDermott said, “she’s incredibly famous and prolific… [and] had that connection to UVa.”
Earlier this year, Guinn said, the painting of the mural was delayed by a few months because of construction on the top floors at the Charlottesville Graduate, which opened in February 2015. The hotel was previously a Red Roof Inn.
The hotel, which is part of the Graduate Hotels brand operated by AJ Capital Partners in Chicago, opened a rooftop restaurant and bar earlier this year. Following the grand opening of the Heirloom restaurant, work on the mural began this summer.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, AJ Capital Partners Vice President David Rochefort celebrated the official dedication of the mural, along with a handful of other community partners that helped bring the project to life.
“I think we’re all confident that we delivered something that will truly inspire Charlottesville,” he said.