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(Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)—Over the month of June, two Moravian art students and an adjunct art instructor transformed a bare white wall in the lobby of an Easton clinic into a tropical jungle.
The recently opened St. Luke’s Center for Women’s Health Services on Northampton Avenue now offers children almost 50 feet of cool greenery, brilliant flowers, and a tempting pool of blue water under a starry sky. Its menagerie of colorful inhabitants includes a toucan, a pair of giraffes, an elephant, a gymnastic monkey, a flamingo, a zebra, a frog, and butterflies.
Art instructor Jan Crooker says the inspiration for the mural came from two prints by serigrapher Mike Smith that originally hung on the wall. One was called “Elephant Bird,” the other “Giraffes in Karlsruhe,” site of one of Germany’s best-known zoos.
“We figured that if they had these up, they must like them, so we’d stick with that theme,” said Crooker. “A mural is something you can’t take away, and we didn’t want St. Luke’s to hate us.”
The students were Allison Pollison ’03, Sparta, N.J., and Tracy Maalouf ’04, Bethlehem. Pollison participated in Moravian’s spring Commencement, but she needed one more art credit to graduate with her art education degree. Both believe the mural experience will give them better employment prospects. “I couldn’t have asked for two better students,” Crooker said.
All three -- teacher and students -- worked on the mural two days a week for a month to complete it. Crooker allowed the students to make pencil drawings of Mike Smith’s animal designs, then expand them with other animals and vegetation to fill a space much wider than it is long. (Each of the two wall panels is 8¼ feet high and 22½ feet wide.) Then she imposed a grid on their drawing.
Asked if the grid system really was necessary, Crooker said: “It’s the only way to do a mural.” She explained that transferring the design to the wall square by square helps stabilize the design and maintains its proportions, so it doesn’t shrink or swell or ride uphill or downhill as different painters work on it.
Crooker and the students chose and mixed the colors for the mural, which is less brilliant than the Smith drawings. Its background colors are cool, laden with greys, blues, and purples, to contrast with the animals.
The animals are sized to the wall and also to the children who will be its primary patrons. The giraffes and the elephant are much smaller than life-size, the zebra about life-size, the toucan and the monkey larger. This makes the critters approachable by children of all ages and sizes.
The clinic, which opened in December, occupies the space formerly tenanted by Tucker’s Yarn. It’s just down the block from the State Theater, on a stretch of Northampton Avenue that’s fast upgrading. Across the street, as if this were a “theme” block. is the Club Jungle nightspot.
“We were finding that a lot of patients from Easton and the Poconos were driving into Bethlehem for their health care,” said Mary Crocus, the nurse in charge of the Easton clinic. So St. Luke’s opened the downtown Easton clinic to serve them. Many of these patients are Hispanic, so the office manager is bilingual.
The clinic provides general gynecologic and prenatal care as well as menopausal medicine, cancer screenings, routine breast exams, and some pediatric services. Many of the women who utilize it have young children in tow, which explains the appeal of the mural.
Crooker said the minimal costs were split between the sponsors. St. Luke’s rented the ladders and drop cloths and paid the parking fees for the painters in a nearby lot. Moravian College paid for the paint and Crooker’s salary, while the students earned credit for their work.
The painters have left space on a partition midway across the mural for children to fill in flowers and leaves of their own design. And in the last corner to be done, the frog will sit beside their signatures, as well as a greeting: “A gift from Moravian College to the children of Easton and St. Luke’s Hospital.”