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Hochstetler mural depicts APSU history

The distinctive Peay Pride logo has found a place of honor in the history of Austin Peay.

It is part of a mural painted by Professor Emeritus of Art Max Hochstetler, which he installed in the Tommy Head Atrium of the Sundquist Science Complex during the winter holidays.

A reception for the artist and a viewing of the mural is slated for 2-4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 25 in the atrium of the building. The event is free and open to the public.
The distinctive Peay Pride logo has found a place of honor in the history of Austin Peay.

It is part of a mural painted by Professor Emeritus of Art Max Hochstetler, which he installed in the Tommy Head Atrium of the Sundquist Science Complex during the winter holidays.

A reception for the artist and a viewing of the mural is slated for 2-4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 25 in the atrium of the building. The event is free and open to the public.

The idea for a mural surfaced in 1999 at the time of the groundbreaking for the science building. Final plans became part of APSU's 75th anniversary celebration in 2001-02.

Hochstetler credits Dr. Ben Stone with the initial idea, which was endorsed heartily by Dr. Sherry Hoppe. Stone is professor emeritus of biology who served as the director of the Center of Excellence for Field Biology from 1986 to 2002.

To enable Hochstetler to focus on the time-intensive project, he was granted released time from teaching, beginning in Spring 2000. He put the final touches on the mural in December 2003.

Hochstetler murals can be seen in several public venues, but the best-known one is the beautiful, 22,000-square-feet mural covering the walls of the Tennessee Ballroom at Opryland Hotel, Nashville. Although Hochstetler incorporated recognizable faces in the Opryland Hotel mural, it is primarily architecturalquite different from his mural at Austin Peay.

“This one became a portrait painting,” he said. Using such resource materials as Charles Waters' history book, “The First Fifty Years of Austin Peay State University,” Hochstetler has captured on canvas the highlights of Austin Peay's history, beginning in 1927 and ending in 2001 with the science building dedication.

Hochstetler secured two Austin Peay art students to assist with the mural, Tommy Jones and William Gentry, both of whose names are under his signature on the last panel.

Historically, when Hochstetler paints a mural, he uses acrylic paint because of its flexibility. “After I complete a section, I can roll it up and later stretch it without damaging the paint,” he says.

The APSU mural, estimated to be 1,200 square feet, was installed atop the stainless-steel trim of the atrium's second-floor level, where it can be seen easily from the ground floor.

Entering the atrium from College Street, a viewer wishing to start at the beginning of the mural will discover the first panel is on the right wall. Although the mural is broken by the atrium's central staircase, Hochstetler says the viewer can follow its continuation naturally, since he has configured the mural so the eye automatically goes past the break to the next image.

The mural is comprised of six walls. Some walls are made up of three units bolted together. The shortest wall covered by canvas is 16 feet long.

The panels of the mural depict a steady progression through history. To add a dramatic effect and to mirror photography of the early 1900s, the first panel is painted black and white.

To create a feeling of moving forward in time, Hochstetler added hues, a bit at a time, to subsequent panels.

The last panel depicts Harned Hall following the 1999 tornado, juxtaposed to a happier scenethe unveiling of the nameplate on the front of Sundquist Science Complex during its dedication.

This section features the group of primary participants in the dedicationHoppe, former Tenn. Gov. Don Sundquist and his wife, Martha, Tenn. Rep. Tommy Head and several faculty members whose departments are housed in the building and who worked tirelessly for years to help make the building a reality.

With so much occurring on campus since 1927, how did Hochstetler organize the mural to represent the highlights of 75 years of the school's history? He says he made each Austin Peay president's term a delineating point in time. Within each presidential “segment,” Hochstetler depicted the president, his/her chief administrators and key events that occurred during that time.

Hochstetler also included portraits of people who were instrumental in the progress, success and rich history of Austin Peay.

“The first portraits are of community leaders who made surewhen Southwestern moved to Memphisthat the campus would become Austin Peay,” he said.

How much control did he have over what was included in the mural? He said he had wide freedom to paint what he felt should be included, although he received some suggestions.

“Some folks who were suggested were included. Some were not,” he says, honestly.

Cognizant that the mural was to be placed in a science facility, Hochstetler felt he should focus primarily on science faculty.

He also included portraits of eight “Distinguished Professors” to represent the many who have earned that award. They are Dr. Robert Sears, Dr. Floyd Ford, Dr. Ed Irwin, Dr. Dolores Gore, Betty Joe Wallace, Dr. Durward Harris, Lawrence Baggett and Dr. Aaron Schmidt.

With the installation of the mural, Hochstetler has bid his final good-bye to APSU. He has been a member of the art faculty since 1967, serving as department chair from 1989 to 1993.

Sitting at a desk in his studio, a stand-alone building at the back of his house, he admits he has no plans to paint another mural, although he enjoyed working on the one for APSU.

“I'll continue to paint, but I'll be painting only what I want to paint now,” he says, in that soft voice so familiar to the students he has taught and mentored over the past 30 years.

Hochstetler's talents will live forever not only in his paintingssuch as the magnificent mural at APSUbut, more importantly, in the hearts and art of hundreds of his students.
—Dennie Burke