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White Hall Mural Swings onto the Big Screen

Posted by btoren@wvu-ad.wvu.edu.
July 27th, 2004

Several current and former WVU students probably feel their Spidey Sense tingling while watching Spider-Man 2. The thought that there’s something familiar about one particular scene probably swings through their minds.

As Peter Parker can attest, trust those senses. There is something familiar about the film’s bank robbery scene for anyone who has sat in G-21 of White Hall.

A replica of the Robert Lepper mural covering the front wall of the WVU auditorium adorns a wall of a bank in the latest Spider-Man installment.

The work, considered one of the most important examples of Machine Age Art, depicts industries prevalent in West Virginia during the early 1940s.

“It is flattering to know that a leading Hollywood design studio thought so highly of the painting that they were willing to go to considerable trouble and expense to incorporate it in the film,” said John Cuthbert, curator of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection. “It is simply the best example they could find of the Machine Age movement in American art.”

In 1940, West Virginia University commissioned Lepper to do the painting in the then new Mineral Industries Building. It was “discovered” last year by an art consultant working on the movie.

Jennifer Long, with Film Art LA, had the task for finding a mural that could be copied and placed on the wall of a bank. The set decorator simply told her they wanted something with a WPA feel.

The search lead Long through many artists and finally to the book The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941, where she found a picture of Lepper’s mural at WVU.

“It had all the workings of a WPA mural. The lines and the designs were perfect. It was definitely right as part of the building,” Long said. “For me, more than anything was the kind of feeling of commerce and industry moving forward.”

When she showed the picture to set decorator Jay Hart, he knew he had found the mural for the wall. Hart said the muted colors appealed to him the most because they compliment the marble columns and dark wood in the bank. And, for the Pittsburgh native, it also helped that Lepper had taught art at Carnegie Mellon University.

After director Sam Raimi gave his approval, Long contacted Cuthbert to obtain the rights to use the image in Spider-Man 2. Hart then sent a photographer to campus to take shots of the mural so it could be reproduced.

Back at Sony Studios, a team of five painters then copied the painting onto eight separate pieces of canvas so that it could fit into the available space at the bank. Crews then crafted faux bronze frames to attach to the finished paintings before mounting them in the bank.

The end result is an attractive backdrop that looks like its original to the bank, Hart said.

The mural can be seen during a scene in which Peter Parker and Aunt May go to the bank. It also serves as the background for a fight between Spider-Man and Dr. Octavius.

Cuthbert doubts the average viewer will notice the University’s contribution to Spider-Man 2; however, he is hopeful its placement can increase awareness of this great mural on campus and serve as a reminder of the many wonderful treasures stemming from the University’s intriguing history.

“It is also a fun new addition to WVU trivia,” Cuthbert said. -Dominion Post

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