Quick brick: Beta Bridge painters revealed
A group of heretofore mysterious artists have finally been revealed as painters of the faux brick design that has covered the east side of Beta Bridge for the past month. Causing double-takes and comments from passersby, the project is also remarkable for its apparent role in preserving the orange and maroon "Hoos for Hokies" message painted on the bridge on the day of the Virginia Tech massacre.
"The day after [the massacre], everyone in class was very somber, though it's usually a lighthearted class," says Sara Brown, the UVA art professor who directed the project. "I think they were actually happy to be able to focus on a particular task.
"We've done this kind of thing as a final class project before," she adds, but since this year's project has become inevitably linked to the preservation of the emotional "Hoos for Hokies" message, it has enjoyed a different and more public success than previous ones have.
"Hoos for Hokies" went up April 16, and at press time it's still there. That gives it the distinction, according to local historians and a search of Cavalier Daily archives, of lasting longer than any other message since Beta Bridge became an ever-changing canvas in the 1970s.
This spring's class had been planning their project all semester, but plans changed when tragedy struck Virginia Tech with only two weeks of classes left.
"We decided that we didn't want to paint over the original Virginia Tech messages, but around them instead. So we planned the painting to be integrated with what was already there," Brown says. It turned out to be an apt challenge, since scenic painting, she says, is about "problem solving."
Brown says she originally planned to imitate old stone until she noticed the brick wall surrounding nearby Westminster Presbyterian Church. "We decided to mimic the brick right next to the bridge to make the painting more convincing," she explains.
Once they decided on the brick motif, the nine students in her class spent several class periods creating samples and testing techniques to execute what the French call a trompe l'oeil creation– one that "tricks the eye."
On Tuesday, May 1, their last day of classes, students and teacher gathered at 8am and began by painting the bridge a base color to match the nearby brick. Next, they dipped strings in paint, pulled them taut, and snapped them against the wall to create mortar detail. Finally, they splattered different colored glazes on top, to mimic the various tones of aging brick.
"We did a lot of making up as we went," says Brown, who predicts that "Hoos for Hokies" and her class's surrounding design have a "good shot" of staying up the rest of the summer.
As for two congratulatory messages already painted over the "brick" the night before graduation exercises– one exclaiming "Woohoo," and another lauding 39-year-old dedicated graduate David Perez– Brown does not intend to retouch or restore.
"I actually like that it changes and people add to it," she says. "I read about David Perez' accomplishments in The Hook, and I think he deserves a 'Woohoo.'"