University building and its iconic mural turn to dust
Chico State’s Taylor Hall is in its last stages of life, as is the hauntingly realistic mural painted on its eastern wall in 1981 by trompe l’oeil muralist John Pugh, a 1983 graduate of the university.
For the past few weeks, workers from Sacramento-based Otto Construction have been tearing the building down to make way for a new Arts and Humanities Building set to open in the fall of 2015.
The mural, which Pugh named Academe, depicts a gaping hole in the side of the building revealing Greek columns. The French phrase trompe l’oeil means “to fool the eye” and apparently this one did from early on.
There have been a few stories associated with the mural since its inception that may or may not be urban myths. One says that soon after Pugh finished the piece a woman who worked upstairs in a building across the street from Taylor Hall called the school and asked the administration when they were going to fix the hole in the wall.
There are also stories that the project caused several rear-end automobile accidents at the corner adjacent to the mural—long before the roundabout was installed—that were triggered by distracted drivers looking at the illusionary hole in the wall.
Joe Wills, Chico State’s director of public affairs, said the new Arts and Humanities Building will offer classes, offices, recital space and galleries, and Pugh will recreate his mural for it, for which the school will pay him $75,000.
“It’ll be the same as the one on the Taylor building,” Wills said. “On the same side and all of that. But in this case, he is doing it offsite and it will be attached to the building as opposed to painting it directly onto the building as he did with Academe in 1981.”
About 200 core samples of the mural were removed for those who want some way to remember the work of art, Wills said.
“The mementos of the mural will go to people who have requested them,” he said. “There is no cost involved and people have heard and have contacted us—probably about 50 people so far.
“We have not yet discussed when and where we will provide the mural pieces to people, but that will get discussed soon. It’s nice that we were able to find a way to take samples of the mural.”
Pugh, who now lives in Truckee, said in an email response that he was in Chico Jan. 3 to see the mural for the last time.
“I was just in Chico getting some last-minute color swatches from the mural,” he said. “It’s interesting to see them breaking the building with a mural of a broken wall. The ground was shaking, and I could hear and feel the building and the mural moaning.”