UND muralist paints his dorm mates togetherThey are young and smiling and dressed in their party best, the students who share the fourth floor west wing of UND’s Noren Hall. They stand or sit together, enjoying each other’s company, a friendly and glittering little society all their own. They will always be so, in Caleb Pfremmer’s mural
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
They are young and smiling and dressed in their party best, the students who share the fourth floor west wing of UND’s Noren Hall. They stand or sit together, enjoying each other’s company, a friendly and glittering little society all their own.
They will always be so, in Caleb Pfremmer’s mural.
Pfremmer, 19, is a UND freshman from Bemidji, a theater arts major who also paints and dreams of working on animated films, designing adjustable clay figures and bringing them to life frame by photographic frame.
Over the past few months, he has worked with live subjects, the young men and women of his residence hall wing: photographing them individually in dress-up clothes, sketching their features onto a canvas draping a wall and transforming the sketched images with paint. Shades of gray are warmed by slight “pops” of blue and gold glitter.
“I like the way he did Jersey’s face,” Mallory Walton said, pointing out one of the student subjects depicted in the nearly completed mural. “That’s a very Jersey look.”
Walton, 20, is from Minnetonka, Minn.
“He’s very flattering when he paints,” she said. “But it brings people together, too. Everyone can relate to it because everybody is up there. It makes us feel like one big group.
“My graduating class in high school was 800 people. You kind of become a number, and college can be like that. But seeing this, I have a name. I have a face. We all have an identity. And not one person is better; we’re all equal.”
She looked from the image of one smiling student to another.
“We like each other, too,” she said. “We look happy to be around each other.”
Pfremmer, tall and slight, has the engaging smile and lanky, easy-going manner of singer, musician and actor Harry Connick Jr.
“Who?” he asks. He is, as we said, 19.
He had worked on murals back in Bemidji and while working summers at a resort, and he broached the idea of covering a wall with canvas and peopling it with his wing neighbors.
“They all loved it,” he said. “They all got dressed up for it.”
Starting in October, he took photographs of three or four students at a time. He projected the images onto the canvas, sketched details and finished the portraits with acrylic paint. He expects to finish in a week or so.
The painting was difficult, he said, as he was trying to recreate subjects who would be inspecting his work two or three or eight times a day. He often worked through the night to concentrate and not disturb anyone.
“If the slightest brush stroke is off, they turn into someone else,” he said.
He was encouraged throughout by Andre Thom, the wing’s resident assistant. “It’s definitely created a sense of community here,” Thom said.
The artist also earned praise from a tough-to-please critic normally inclined to frown at dormitory art, especially such sub-categories as graffiti and lurid posters.
“He’s pretty talented,” dorm maintenance man Paul Bruggeman said as he pushed a bucket and cart by the mural.
A face that ‘happens’
Haley Hand, 18, from Ft. Pierre, S.D., said it was fun to pose for the mural.
“People from all over Noren Hall have come to look at it,” she said, and each finished portrait is cause for celebration.
“We all pressure Caleb to get it done,” she said.
“I’m not an arts person, but this is really cool. The shading is so good, and the faces — he got the personalities really well.”
She pointed to one girl, her face full of attitude. “This is priceless,” Haley said. “Her expression is so like when she’s looking at you and saying, ‘Really?’”
Caleb agreed. “It’s a face that really happens,” he said.
Sarah Opitz, 18, from Woodbury, Minn., put on a nice dress and wore her hair down as she sat for Pfremmer.
“I was scared I was going to look bad,” she said. “But I was the first one done, and I liked it. I felt pretty special.”
Sean Sprague, 21, from Grand Forks, said that he has “enjoyed watching it come along, from the first sketches to now it’s almost done.”
And if the objective was to bring people together, it seems to have done that.
“I’m not much of a social person,” Sprague said. “But this has given us all something to talk about, something we all share.”
‘How we were’
The canvas will stay up on the Noren wall the rest of this year, then come down when these students scatter to jobs, apartments, Greek houses or other dorms.
Maybe the new wing residents next fall will be lucky enough to have a resident artist who can capture them at this time of their lives and draw them closer together, if just for a few months.
“I would love for it to be kept in a museum, maybe here on campus,” Thom said of Pfremmer’s work. “I want it to be safe, where new freshmen could come by and see what community can be.”
Caleb said he would like that.
“Years from now, when we all get together again, we can look at how we were,” he said. “We can bring our kids over to see how we were.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to email@example.com.