The History of Wilkes Artfully Restored

by Web Services

The “Wilkes Mural” is displayed on the first floor of the Eugene S. Farley Library.

Wilkes University’s graduating class of 1958 recognized the importance of capturing the history of the then 25-year-old institution. More than 60 years later, a new generation of Wilkes students, faculty and staff can enjoy its visual depiction, thanks to the restoration of the “Wilkes Mural,” a painting by award-winning artist and former chair of the art department, Cathal O’Toole.

Measuring approximately 14 feet wide by six feet tall, the oil painting celebrates the first years of the school, from its founding in 1933 as Bucknell University Junior College to the naming of Wilkes College in 1947. It features a “who’s who” and some of the most important events within the earliest years of Wilkes:

  • Eugene S. Farley, Wilkes’ first president, appears three times including in a scene depicting the Charter Day ceremony when the college became known as Wilkes (at right).   
  • Annette Evans stands among the first Board of Trustees.
  • Beloved wrestling coach John Reese, who passed in 2022, can be seen in the far right corner.
  • Professor Catherine Bone, whose memory is honored during an annual chemistry lecture, and Alfred Groh, professor, poet and founder of the Fine Arts Fiesta stand among notable faculty, administrators and students.
  • The Honorable Max Rosenn is included for his role as a prominent supporter in the development of Wilkes.

The painting also features William Crowder, believed to be the first Black graduate of Wilkes College in 1955. Crowder was an accomplished musician and composer and played a significant role in many theatrical productions at Wilkes.

William Crowder, playing the piano, was the first Black graduate of Wilkes College in 1955. Center left is Alfred Groh with the artist himself, Cathal O’Toole at top.

As library technician Joan Ford put it, “You can look at it a million times and find something new.” In fact, even the artist himself is hidden in the work, quite appropriately, painting.

A key to the mural outside of the Admiral Stark Room identifies those depicted, helping current Wilkes students put faces to names. Many of these students now walk the halls of buildings named in memory of those included in the mural. In terms of “places,” Chase Hall is featured as are the iconic eagles soaring high above the Market Street Bridge. Peek further and one can see Public Square in the distance along with the downtown Wilkes-Barre skyline.

The painting took three years to complete and was presented to Wilkes in 1961 as gift from the Class of 1958. It was first displayed in the former gymnasium which stood at the site of the Marts Center. When a new gym was being constructed, the painting was moved to Stark Learning Center and eventually found its way to storage, smoke and other substances dimming its luster.

An anonymous donor saw the value in the painting and paid for the $3,500 restoration project. It was completed by Judy Dotzel of Trinity Artisans, Fine Art and Restoration, Fairview, Twp., Pa. The restoration of Dotzel and her team took approximately 50 hours, often working late into the night.

The Wilkes Mural is located on the first floor of the Farley Library outside of the Admiral Stark Room. Members of the Wilkes University and greater Wilkes-Barre community are welcome to view it during library hours.

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