Mural brings the outdoors inside

Brooklyn Henke (’13 MFA Painting) created a new mural in UWM’s Northwest Quad building. (Photo by Troye Fox)

When UWM acquired the neighboring Columbia Hospital complex, there was excitement at the prospect of additional space. But there also were challenges in making the facility, now known as the Northwest Quadrant, more inviting and user-friendly.

Brooklyn Henke (’13 MFA Painting) was commissioned to create a mural on a corridor wall that would both create a warm atmosphere and orient visitors. The result is a lush, green forest scene that includes plants and animals native to Wisconsin.

Video by Mary Baylor

Watch: Brooklyn Henke at work
View full size on YouTube

“We received many comments about the ‘institutional’ look of the buildings, including some references to bad memories – e.g. ‘My father died in a room just down the hall….’” There also is a need to improve way-finding in the building,” says Geoffrey Hurtado, associate vice chancellor, Facilities Planning and Management. “The mural creates some beauty and acts as a landmark.”

The 6-by-27-foot mural is located inside the Newport Avenue entrance (blue awning and a curved driveway). At this location, the mural also encourages people to move from the parking ramp toward the Grind coffee shop – a frequent meeting place.

Henke, who has created murals for clients ranging from the Milwaukee Public Museum to Hotel Metro to Horny Goat Brewery, cites faculty, staff and administrators who helped with the campus project. “Clearly, when there are a number of people involved, there can be stumbling blocks. That wasn’t the case at UWM.”

Those key to the project include Robin Van Harpen, interim vice chancellor, Finance and Administrative Affairs; Hurtado; Lee Ann Garrison, director of the Design Research Institute, Peck School of the Arts; Dennis Stecker, manager for space analysis, Campus Planning; Chad Zahrt, assistant dean, School of Information Studies; and Karen Wolfert, facilities architect for capital projects and planning, Campus Planning.

“You do your best work as an artist when the process goes well,” says Henke.

For her, that process involves concept, site, sketches, final design and painting, with client discussion and approval at every step.

Inspirations for the Northwest Quad mural include UWM’s Downer Woods and other locations stretching from Milwaukee’s Grant Park to Door County. Careful observers will spot white trillium and the monarch butterfly – examples of the mural’s 30 “reference points” created from “reference photos.”

While Henke once began her murals by drawing projects by hand, she has found it more efficient to use Photoshop. “Ordinarily, I project the final design on the wall,” she says, “but this hallway was too narrow for the projector.” Instead, she used a grid to apply the design.

The final step is painting, and Henke describes that as “where I leave my fingerprint on a mural.”