Any University student who has lived in Old Dorms most likely recalls beige and white walls — and not much else. But for a little while, students have been given the opportunity to add some more vibrant colors. Beginning in May, Hancock, Metcalf and Lefevre will be undergoing renovations — but currently they’re undergoing creative transformations.
Fourth-year College student Charlie Fisher, the senior resident of Metcalf-Lefevre, has made it possible for first years to paint the halls of these Old Dorms.
“In the past, HRL has allowed residents in dorms that were being redone paint the walls, so I started asking if it would be possible, and I received permission from the deans over in HRL to take on this project,” Fisher said.
As a result, Fisher estimates about 199 students were involved in the painting.
“I was told over and over again that this was a bad idea,” Fisher said. “People told me the residents couldn’t handle the responsibility and would paint inappropriate or hateful things on the walls. The residents of the building proved them all completely wrong.… There were so many beautiful paintings, and they were overwhelmingly positive.”
Walking down the halls of these dorms, colorful murals pop out of the walls, bearing messages such as “Treat People with Kindness” or “Do what you love.” Each resident was given the opportunity to create an original work that was personally meaningful. For instance, first-year College student Hannah Birch painted images of the beach and the Richmond skyline, symbolizing both her own hometown and that of her roommate.
“It’s our home away from home, so I tried to make it represent that,” Birch said.
Second-year College student and Resident Advisor Sarah Gaedecke was similarly excited about the opportunity to paint the walls, saying that she participated in the creation of two murals on her hall. One of the murals, featuring a multi-colored background and a woman’s silhouette, bears the message, “Black is Beautiful.” Gaedecke expressed gratitude in being able to help create this painting.
“A girl, Sarah, on my hall ... actually came up with the design, and ‘Black is Beautiful’ was really important to her for her to express her identity,” Gaedecke said. “I think it was really special that a bunch of us on this hall got the opportunity to participate in creating it.”
Gaedecke also spoke fondly of the experience of painting the walls with her residents.
“Us RAs have watched our residents grow and walk away and do their own thing, but it brought everyone back to the dorm, and getting to catch up again and see everyone together and happy — I think it just brought a lot of joy to everyone around,” Gaedecke said.
Each hall is characterized by a unique set of paintings representing both the talents and the passions of its residents. The doorframes of the rooms are mosaics of the things that make their inhabitants smile — planets, flowers, sunsets.
Although some paintings carried serious or otherwise inspirational messages, residents created some more playful works of art as well. First-year College student Henry Franklin reported that his hall and the hall below his contained primarily humorous paintings. In fact, the paintings on his hall were all Spongebob-themed.
“It’s just fun to see what everyone was thinking when they painted,” first-year College student Max Thwing said. “Like even if they’re not artistic, everyone had something cool to put on the wall, whether it just be some words like … ‘Hoos your daddy?’ or ‘Go Hoos’… It’s just cool to see what everyone thought of.”
In a remarkable demonstration of creativity and camaraderie, these students have taken an unlikely canvas and made it something beautiful. Although the paintings will unfortunately be lost when the buildings are renovated, students will leave knowing that their artwork is now a part of the University’s history.
“We actually have the chance to put something that represents ourselves on the walls, and then when this building eventually goes down, it will have been the last thing people see when they come in to take everything out,” first-year College student Julia Paraiso said.