A piece of Gonzaga University’s history was unearthed in a big campus construction project.
Gonzaga University officials are trying to decide where to display a 28-foot-by-10-foot mosaic discovered while tearing down the COG, the Center of Gonzaga building that served as the student center.
The artwork was designed by Richard Ingalls, the university art director in the 1960s. Its 30,000 pieces of colorful glass pieces from Monterey, Mexico, tell a pictorial history of Gonzaga’s early years, said GU’s archivist Stephanie Plowman. The piece was created in honor of the university’s 75th anniversary.
But it was covered up in the 1990s as part of a remodeling to bring a Taco Bell to campus.
No more. University officials intend to return the mural to prominence.
The story it tells unfolds from left to right starting with a sun symbol hovering above a Native American and a tepee – the region’s first inhabitants. The Spokane Falls are next to a Jesuit priest with a rosary and books, and St. Aloysius Church and several of the first GU buildings are shown along with symbols of academic studies and sports equipment.
“It really speaks to the history of GU,” said Pete Tormey, a university spokesman.
The project took more than 500 hours for Ingalls, the Rev. Louis St. Marie, co-founder of the art department, and students, faculty, family and friends to create, university officials said.
Plowman is thrilled the historic piece has been rescued.
“It’s important not to forget where we’ve been,” she said.
The mural covered a wall in the COG’s basement eatery, where it had been since 1962. It was covered with drywall in the 1990s when a Taco Bell opened in the space.
While working on a story about the COG’s history, Plowman learned of the mosaic’s creation and asked someone to cut a hole in the drywall to find out if it still existed.
Other than a small hole, “there it was in its entirety,” she said.
In a 1962 Gonzaga article, Ingalls described “proper appreciation” for the mural: “In modern times, our knowledge is confined to written things. We’ve lost the ability to read symbols. In designing the mural, we of the art department have tried to use not just symbols but universal symbols,” Ingalls noted. “The musical instrument on the mural is not a trumpet or a horn – but a symbol that is universal. And we’ve tried to do the same with all the symbols that we’ve used – so that they’d mean as much to a foreigner as they do to us.”
The mural has been dismantled into 4-foot-10-inch panels and is in storage while university officials determine a new – more visible – home for it. So far, there are no plans to return it to the new student center expected to be completed in 2015.
“The mosaic is a work of art,” Plowman said. “If it were installed in an area that is well-lighted, its beautiful colors will be greatly enhanced and it would be recognized for what it truly is.”