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Physics, art double major Mary Sencabaugh creates mural honoring outer space

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Austin Peay art and physics double major Mary Sencabaugh was simply asked to fill a space on a wall.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Austin Peay art and physics double major Mary Sencabaugh was simply asked to fill a space on a wall.

A professor of physics and astronomy at Austin Peay, Dr. Allyn Smith had recently renovated his office space in at the University's Sundquist Science Building and was looking to cover an empty wall with something invocative of the the stars. As a student of both the explained (physics) and the unexplained (art), Sencabaugh found herself singled out as the perfect choice to tackle the job.

But while Sencabaugh was just asked to fill a space on a wall, the Austin Peay student instead saw it as an opportunity to pay tribute to a number of inspirations in her life.

“Ultimately, both physics and art are about trying to explain or understand the things around you,” Sencabaugh said. “I’m always trying to base my art projects around physics because it’s something I’m always thinking or learning about anyway, so (the mural) was a great project for me.”

Created using oil paints, Sencabaugh's mural is meant to invoke a sense of awe in the beauty of space. Before her commission, Sencabaugh had taken part in a University trip to Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tuscon, Arizona, and the art and physics major said the extraterrestrial sights experienced on that trip served as her inspiration.

The mural’s use of color and shape is abstract, but Sencabaugh said her goal was to encompass many of the unique sights that can be spotted through a telescope.

“I wanted to try to get a number of different important features of space in the mural itself,” Sencabaugh said. “For instance, there’s the Einstein’s Cross in one corner, which is a real example of light bending around a heavy object so that it makes it look like two identical objects to our eyes.”

The entire structure of the mural itself, Sencabaugh said, is a subtle tribute to one of her artistic inspirations – late television host and painter, Bob Ross.

“I’m a big Bob Ross fan, and one of his favorite things to do was to paint ‘fluffy little clouds’ in his works,” Sencabaugh said. “Ultimately, space itself is like a series of fluffy clouds, so that’s the way I went about creating the nebula in the mural.

“(The mural) was fun because it’s a chance to combine physics and astronomy, which have the burden of accuracy, with art, which has no burden of accuracy and gives you the freedom to do what you want.”

For information on the Austin Peay’s schedule of events for the 2017 Total American Eclipse, visit www.apsu.edu/eclipse. To find out more about Sencabaugh’s work, visit www.marysencabaugh.com.