By Jessie Eikmann, Staff Writer
At 12:15 p.m. on April 5, a crowd of University of Missouri—St. Louis (UMSL) students and faculty formed a circle around three covered panels across from the Veterans Center in 211 Clark Hall. Among the crowd were Chancellor Thomas George and Ronald Yasbin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The occasion was the unveiling of a new mural reflecting the integration and inclusion of veterans into UMSL’s community and campus. The mural is titled “Overlapping Identities” and was painted by Navy veteran Michael Wattle, senior, studio art.
To start the unveiling, there were a few brief acknowledgments from the Department Chair of Military and Veterans Studies, Jim Craig, as well as Chancellor George and Dean Yasbin. Craig thanked Bank of America and the Kaufman Fund for their continued financial support of the Veterans Center. Yasbin spoke highly of the Veterans Center for stopping the problem of veterans being “ping-ponged” between different campus departments when trying to get their Veterans Affairs vouchers and register for class. He then introduced Wattle: “I got a sneak preview of [the mural]. It is outstanding … Mike [Wattle] is a dual major in education and art, and having recently inherited art, I am thrilled that you’re one of our students. Hopefully you’ll be marching for us on our graduation stage.” Three student veterans then took the covers off the mural.
“Overlapping Identities” is a 12-by-seven-foot mural, featuring the Millennium Student Center populated in the foreground with veterans. The largest figures are in uniform, and as the viewer looks farther into the background, they can see veterans in civilian clothing.
Wattle said, “With this painting here, it was something that I felt like I had to do … Rebecca [McMenamin] told me about it, and after submitting the drawings … I was excited about it … I think it’s a little larger than me, for sure, and I think it’s going to mean a lot to other veterans … What I wanted to show in here was veterans on campus. They’re never out of uniform. You still remember everything you did as an active duty member, and of course [there is] a memorial of our fallen soldiers and veterans as well in the painting. You can definitely see my style is a little different than some other painters, but here I just wanted to show … what it’s like to be a veteran on campus and [show] that you remember every day of what you did in active duty.”
Like two other student murals in the Marcus Allen Advising Center in Lucas Hall, “Overlapping Identities” was commissioned by Yasbin. The contest was open to submissions last fall, and Wattle’s drawing greatly impressed the judges. According to the Manager of Veteran and Military Studies, Rebecca McMenamin, “When we saw his submission, it was a no-brainer that he should paint this. Not only is his artistic ability so amazing, but I think his vision for the mural … will do wonders for the culture on campus. We really wanted something that would help civilian students better understand the military perspective or the military experience that veterans and service members have on this campus.”
The unveiling of “Overlapping Identities” was originally supposed to be at the beginning of the spring semester, but some complications in Wattle’s busy schedule of student teaching, coaching football, and taking care of his family prevented him from finishing the mural over winter break.
“That’s when we devised a plan in January that he would paint it in his garage and then we would transfer it here. He transported it in three pieces … [and] we installed it over spring break,” said McMenamin.
For his submission, Wattle won a $1,000 scholarship for spring semester. Wattle will graduate in May, and he is interviewing for a full-time position at Hillsboro High School, where he student teaches. As for the mural, the Veterans Center staff believes it is a welcome contribution to UMSL’s commitment to understanding the veteran experience and will continue to enhance the relationship between administrators and veteran students.
As McMenamin put it, “For me, what’s exciting is … we get new students all the time who want to come to UMSL, and I think that … having them see that [mural] as they walk in, they’re going to say, ‘That’s a really great piece of art and it’s really cool,’ but also … I think they’ll start to believe that UMSL understands them and their experience.”