Graphic Design Majors Create Banners for Austin Hall Chapel

When the stain-glass windows in the Austin Hall Chapel were replaced during renovations, campus leaders called on Merrimack student-artists to contribute original work depicting saints from the Augustinian Tradition.

  • Merrimack student-artists create a series of banners to hang in the renovated Austin Hall Chapel.

The old chapel windows were recently replaced by new and clear energy-efficient windows during renovations. To bring some life and energy back into the sanctuary, Vice President of Campus Ministry Fr. Ray Dlugos, O.S.A., commissioned artwork from Merrimack student-artists to create decorative banners that will hang in the space.

“Our students, being a part of the Augustinian Tradition here at Merrimack, had the unique ability and perspective we were looking for when considering artists,” Fr. Ray said. “They were able to create artwork for the space that truly represents what might come out of the Merrimack experience.”

Instead of working with artists outside of the Merrimack community, Fr. Ray collaborated with Associate Professor and Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department Nancy Wynn to discuss how they could create banners showcasing six saints from current Merrimack student-artists.

During the fall 2020 semester, Wynn folded the project into her Graphic Design 2 syllabus, since system design is already included in the advanced-level course. Throughout the semester, the project provided an experiential learning opportunity for her students, as they worked to design and produce each banner.

“This was also an opportunity to introduce our saints to students in a way that would be much different than through Homilies at Mass or in Theology Class,” Fr. Ray said. “I wondered what our saints might look like to the eyes of people who had not grown up with them as I had, and what fresh insights might come from their perspective.”

To begin the creative process, Wynn and Fr. Ray provided readings on the saints, and the students completed research on banner design, religious artwork and various artistic movements. Fr. Ray was considered “the client,” and worked closely with the group to provide additional details about each saint, discuss readings and offer insights to the saints’ lives and stories.

All of this enriched the students’ understanding of their subjects – the saints – and the professional creative process of working with and for a real-world client.

By the end of the semester, Wynn presented eight sets of six banners to Fr. Ray and President Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D. The original intent was to produce one set for the Chapel, but after careful review of the work President Hopey suggested multiple sets of the banners should be produced.

To make it a “real” freelance project for her students, Wynn went on to develop a professional strategy designed to push each student and their work through to completion. Four students ultimately decided to continue with the project throughout the spring 2021 semester: Fiona Casey ’22, Felicia Fishel ’21, Jubilee Newton ’22 and Lauren Pardue ’22.

These students agreed to take on additional critiques; meetings with vendors on materials, printing and costs; and a final oral presentation of their work to the President Hopey.

“Listening to Fr. Ray, learning what the school wanted, researching each saint and understanding the meaning of the work allowed me to really understand this project from so many perspectives,” Fishel said. “Doing this work with a professional mindset helped me see how we could use the techniques we had been learning in class in the real world.”

Following the spring 2021 semester, the students completed the banners outside of class on their own, under the guidance of Wynn. In line with the professional development and experiential learning aspects of this project, the students set firm deadlines, were expected to produce professional work and would be compensated on completion of the banners.

I think the biggest take-away was getting to be a part of the entire process – doing the research, discussing with the client about the accuracies, making sure it was going in the right direction and then talking about the production and what would be done after the designs were completed,” Newton said.

Now that the students have completed each step of the design process, all four sets of banners will be produced and each set will hang in the Chapel at various times throughout the year. When their banners are not on display in the Chapel, they will be displayed in the McCoy Gallery and in other campus spaces for all to see.

“The students worked very hard to get their designs to a professional level. Each set is different, and all of them are exceedingly beautiful,” Wynn said. “The designs are skillful, thoughtful and creative. They all tell the stories of the six saints, but each in a unique way. I am so proud of their follow-through on the project. They produced stunningly strong work that brings new energy to the Chapel.”

The banner project was collaborative and interdisciplinary, building bridges between design, art, religious and theological studies and the business of design. Students involved learned how to work with a client, how to interact with vendors and how to manage costs and stick to a budget.

Students also worked remotely as “freelancers” – as many professionals do – and handled the project from start to finish, from research and development to the final production of each set of banners.

In a normal Graphic Design course we review everyone’s work as a class about twice, but the critiques were never this in-depth,” Casey said. “This project helped open my eyes to how helpful and important it is for designers to critique one another during the design process. Their eyes can pick up on things yours can’t. I’m being genuine when I say it was an honor to work on something with a team as passionate about design as I am.”

In the coming months, each set of banners will grace the newly renovated Chapel. Fishel’s banner designs are already installed and have been on display since late September, 2021. They will remain in the Chapel until mid-October, when Pardue’s banner designs will be installed through the end of 2021.

Casey’s designs will then open the spring 2022 semester and remain installed until mid-March. After, Newton’s banner designs will round out the installation from March until the end of the academic year. This rotation is scheduled to be carried out annually.

To view the current banners, stop by the Austin Hall Chapel. The McCoy Gallery will be exhibiting all four sets of banners (large prints) from Sept. 23–Oct. 18, 2021.

To hear more about this project and each artist’s process, please join us on Oct. 18 at 5:30 p.m. for an artist talk in the Gallery.

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