- Saint John's Prep Library, Oil on Canvas, 9'
- Saint John's Prep Magazine: Spring, 2008, Page 8
Just a year after Andrew Carr ’02 graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, St. John’s commissioned him to paint a mural that has become the focal point of the soaring space within the main reading room of the A.E. Studzinski Library. “As we planned for our Centennial year, we felt it was important to create a work of art that would make a statement about who we are and what we believe,” says Headmaster Skip Shannon. “Andrew understood exactly what we had in mind and we, in turn, respected his vision as an artist. The result is the most significant piece of original artwork on the Prep campus and we could not be more pleased.”
A bold nine feet in diameter, the oil on canvas circular mural depicts 100 years of Prep life. It is divided into four sections that represent religion, athletics, the arts and academics – the essential elements of a Prep education. Carr evokes the full range and scope of the school’s long history by anchoring each of the four sections in a different time period. Seen in sequence, they form an almost cinematic timeline that opens in 1907 with the founding of St. John’s. Carr begins his narrative in the chapel, where he pays homage to the Prep’s foundation in faith and to the spirituality of the Xaverian Brothers. To highlight athletics, he moves to the 1940s and ’50s, when St. John’s boasted new sports facilities and its reputation as an athletic powerhouse was widely acknowledged. A production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” introduces the 1980s and ’90s, when the Ryken Center for the Arts opened and the arts program was greatly expanded. The present time comes into focus in the form of a thoroughly modern classroom, where teacher and students embody the Prep’s tradition of rigorous academics. Although he came to the project intimately familiar with St. John’s through his experiences as a student, Carr spent long hours studying the school’s history. “When I started the project, Gary Larrabee was writing his book and there was a room filled with documents, yearbooks, and photographs. I was aware of the Prep’s history, but it wasn’t until I started sifting through everything that I started to really understand how long the school had been around and what the Centennial year really meant,” says Carr. “It made me proud to be part of such a long and special tradition.
Much of what Carr learned found its way into the mural. Intrigued to discover that fraternities played a big role in life on campus for many years, for example, he added a small Sigma Nu insignia to the jacket of the student pictured in the chapel. And knowing that there was no money for stained glass windows when the chapel was built, he pictured plain glass in some of the windows. These and other small hints about the Prep’s history add layers of meaning to the painting, whether it is the rainy track scene that underscores the endurance and commitment of Prep athletes, or “The Tempest” that represents an edgy, experimental approach to the arts.
Even more subtle are the shapes Carr uses to create a unified aesthetic within each of the four sections: arches in the chapel; straight lines and boundaries in sports; organic curves in the arts; right angles, squares and rectangles in academics. “It’s not necessary to analyze a piece to enjoy it,” says Carr, “but I wanted to create something that you could look into and use your imagination to enjoy. I think it’s what makes artwork so special.
Andrew Carr moved to a tiny studio in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood last fall, where he paints portraits while developing a portfolio of his work. To contact him, email email@example.com. The Centennial Mural is in the A.E. Studzinski Library, which is open on school days from 7:00 am to 5:30 pm.