During her time as an art student at Washburn University, Laura Englehardt preferred to paint small, detailed portraits with oils. Today, she’s at Washburn Tech Building A finishing a more than 900 square-foot mural of an imagined Kansas landscape, painted with acrylics and brushes, cans of house paint and rollers.
The irony isn’t lost on Englehardt, 29, who graduated in 2007 but took several years off from painting to focus on glass work and jewelry-making.
“This is the first time I’ve used acrylics. This is the first time I’ve painted a landscape,” she said, enthusiastically. “I like it. I can paint the large things and then hunker down and paint seven hours of detail. I’m getting the best of both worlds.”
Now a full-time muralist, Englehardt is part of a team that is transforming the halls of Washburn Tech’s Building A one at a time. It began with a mural of a tree, in an obviously Kansas scene, with sunflowers and wind turbines. That lead to this major, still untitled, undertaking in the far west wing of the building at 5724 SW Huntoon St. The mural stretches between the early childhood education and surgical technology programs.
Just a few months ago that same hallway was lined with lockers on both sides. Washburn Tech students in construction-related programs removed the lockers, sheet-rocked the wall and prepared it for her painting as part of their training program.
“I do think there’s a story to be told up and down our hallways,” said Clark Coco, dean, Washburn Tech. He said that story – educational opportunity and the bright careers and futures that follow – will be told with other painted and graphic murals.
Washburn Tech, Coco said, is transforming into “what we consider a flagship technical institution in the state.”
“If we’re going to aspire to be a destination place, then the goal is to create, within the walls, something that reflects that,” Coco said. Englehardt’s mural, which was designed to soften the space, welcome visitors and cater to the children who are learning in that part of the building, supports that goal.
Three months into the massive effort, Englehardt has created a panorama that evolves from a forest, through the Flint Hills and prairie, across a desolate highway, past windmills and stripper wells. It continues with a farmstead with an old fashioned windmill (which was suggested by a member of the Washburn Tech faculty), hot air balloons, a suburban neighborhood and morphs into a futuristic urban cityscape with domed gardens at the edge of space. The passage through space continues down the hall where the planets will be added.
“I like the opportunity to play,” Englehardt said. She worked out a basic concept for the mural with Coco, but it has grown and changed since her work began. “The Dean wants a wow factor. I’m going for it.”
The entire work of art will be finished by the end of 2012. That includes a three-dimensional three surrounding a pillar on the forest end of the mural that will be fashioned to look like a tree by a member of the cabinet and mill work faculty.
Although Englehardt said she never would have imagined herself as a muralist, she said: “I’m really happy. I get to come here and paint every day and feel wonderful.”