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Web of Life

           Charley Harper’s tile mural Web of Life is currently in the entrance of Pearson Hall, although it is planned to be moved in the renovations of Summer 2018. It is expected to be placed on the far wall of the sitting area being installed at the entrance. Harper was commissioned to create Web of Life thanks to Dr. Hardy Eshbaugh, and it was installed in 1986 when Pearson was built.[1] At the time, Dr. Eshbaugh was the chair of the Department of Botany at Miami as well as an avid collector of prints, specifically those made by Harper. Dr. Eshbaugh knew of Harper’s stylistic tendencies toward minimalism and graphic work, particularly with animals as subjects, and of his tile mural titled Tree of Life in the Federal Building in his hometown of Cincinnati. When the Biology Department asked Harper to create a mural similar to the Tree of Life to be placed in Pearson, Harper was thrilled to be given the opportunity to create another mural. His interest in the subject matter made him get involved with those working in the department to provide them with something meaningful. While the subject of the work is clearly life, there are a few forms on the mural that stand out as being specific to the department.

            The wood rat on the top left of the mural was added for Dr. Paul Pearson, after whom the building is named and whose research focused on the animal. The several algae, particularly the green alga on the top right, represent the lifelong research interest of Dr. Karl Mattox, who was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of Botany. The chili pepper on the left border of the mural is for Dr. Eshbaugh, who studied the plants for years and located their origin in South America. The bacterium on the bottom half of the left third was the research interest of Dr. Don Cox, former chair and professor of Zoology. The spider on the right border is for Dr. Bob Sherman, another former chair and professor of Zoology. Each of these men was instrumental in the development and planning of Pearson, so having their research subjects on a supporting wall of the building stands to represent their founding place in the department.[2]

            A final species that is included is particularly important to those who have entered the building in the past and those who will come through in the future: the human. Harper added the human skull as a tribute to mankind and our unending search for knowledge. It is interesting to note the way that he represented the skull, with face pointed up, so that it can gaze upon the stars, just as humans have done for millennia.

[1] Miami University. "Harper Artwork to Benefit Art/Science Students." News release, November 18, 1998. Accessed April 2, 2018. http://miamioh.edu/news/article/view/2540.

[2] Cogan, Nelly Bly, comp. Web of Life. Oxford, OH: Miami University.