Old Cabell Hall mural is walk down memory lane

Exquisite paintings chronicle fictional U.Va. student’s Charlottesville experience


The mural greeting each visitor to the lobby of Old Cabell Hall is a mixture of nostalgia, artistic flair and school pride. Nearly every University student has walked by the larger-than-life painting at some point in their time on Grounds — but many have likely passed by without truly taking notice of its majesty.

In 1996, a group of University benefactors commissioned artist Lincoln Perry to create the mural titled “Students’ Progress.” Bold colors and thick strokes resemble a Renaissance-style painting; the main attraction, however, is told among the panels. The painting offers more than just a static image; it details a narrative, chronicling the life of a University student.

The story follows the life of a red-haired, musically-inclined student named Shannon. The first panel depicts Shannon walking up a staircase on her first day of class. She’s inconspicuous and timid among the crowd — an accurate portrayal of the masses of lost first years in the opening weeks of classes. This image is reminiscent of everyone’s first-year experience, full of “mandatory” orientation lectures and nervous questions as to how to get from Newcomb to the Bookstore.

The next panels shows Shannon at a party, talking with friends. This painting is followed by a scene of someone helping Shannon up because she has a broken ankle. The next few panels depict Shannon playing her violin and bonding with other students. She’s discovering her passions and finding her place at the University, becoming increasingly involved in extracurriculars. Finally, she reaches Final Exercises, where she is surrounded by supporting friends and faculty.

The next grouping of panels depicts Shannon’s future: she gets married, becomes a University music professor, and raises a child who eventually attends the University as well.

Though this latter half of the narrative is less relatable for current University students — certainly we won't all get married, have children or return as professors — the painting nevertheless offers a slew of University-specific scenes which any student can appreciate.

One panel depicts the annual Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn. Shannon brings her daughter to participate in the tradition, and the painting depicts cute children in costumes passing the Rotunda, all surrounded by the gorgeous colors of a Charlottesville fall, a favorite sights of all Wahoos.

But perhaps the best and most humorous painting is the panels of the left stairwell. It shows students drinking, flirting, getting sick and dancing. One student is duct-taped to a column of the Rotunda, another is sneaking out of a professor’s bedroom and passing her underwear to her. Directly across from this party scene is a painting of various notable professors. Props to the University for knowing how to take a joke.

A stroll through Old Cabell Hall offers a good chance for students, staff and returning alumni to reminisce and relish in your time in Charlottesville. Whether you are a first year or a fourth year, you will certainly see a bit of yourself in Shannon’s adventures.

The main desk of Old Cabell provides free pamphlets with a map of the sequence of paintings, as well as a more detailed background on the artist and further analysis of the painting.

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