Giving directions to the Washburn Arts Center (also known as WAB) just got easier, says Professor Tracey D. Salaway. That is because the 14 students in her course, “Art 220: Beginning Painting,” spent the last weeks of the spring semester transforming the steps of the building into a brightly colored mural that is impossible to miss. Green blobs, purple splotches, and blue squiggles dance on a pink background in a work titled, “A Melody of Sign Language.”

“We’re trying to bring color to campus,” says Salaway, who loves adding to the vibrancy of the environment. She says the history of mural art at Gallaudet started with Chuck Baird’s “The Final Panels, Deaf Experiences,” which the celebrated artist painted inside the cafeteria in 1989 during The Deaf Way conference and festival. Other pieces have popped up on walls since 2013, when Salaway began instructing students in mural art with a course that was co-taught by Yiqiao Wang, who has gone on to create murals at Union Market and the Signing Starbucks on H Street.

Creating a mural can be a daunting undertaking, Salaway says. For the Washburn steps project, students had to paint for more than 100 hours — in scorching temperatures — to turn their vision into a reality. That was after months of digging deep to find inspiration, learning about technique, and conquering the logistics involved in such a large-scale piece.

Three frames each show a student painting steps.
Watch the mural making process from start to finish in these . At top, Professor Tracey D. Salaway and the students from her course pose on their finished mural.

“This experience truly underscored the dedication and skill of mural artists who likely tackle such projects solo,” says Jenica Teregeyo, ’24, who appreciated that it was a collaborative effort with her classmates.

Salaway had each of them , and then put them into three teams to pool their ideas. Teregeyo, who worked with Amber Virnig, Heskarleth Rodriguez, and Lou Cherena Santiago, says they shared a vision: “It had to be unique, abstract, and above all, tell a story.”

They decided to build on Teregeyo’s concept, inspired by both graffiti legend Keith Haring and modern art master Henri Matisse. “[Haring’s] dynamic style influenced my approach to creating the artwork, allowing me to incorporate elements that captured the essence of movement and energy,” she says. As a group, they refined the design to make it more visually compelling.

After settling on the name, “A Melody of Sign Language,” they crafted an artist statement explaining that it represents the fluidity of facial expressions and hand motions. Providing this description helped people in the community connect with the image, which beat out the two other class proposals in an online vote, Salaway says. She loves the palette they chose, especially the pink, which she interprets as a nod to women’s rights and LGBTQIA+ rights. 

The next assignment was showing up outside of Washburn at dusk. They used a projector to determine exactly how to line up the design on the site, and carefully outlined the shapes in marker. Salaway points out that the mural is only on the risers, and not on the tops of the steps, which they left unpainted. This makes the project unobtrusive for anyone with low vision, and also creates a cool effect for viewers. Unlike a traditional painting in a single frame, the mural changes depending on the angle of approach.

As Teregeyo and her classmates , she was struck by how many folks stopped by to watch and compliment their work. “The community’s response has been heartwarming and encouraging, serving as a reminder of the impact art can have. I hope our mural encourages people to embrace creativity, whether it’s through graphic design, illustration, painting, or any other form,” she says.

And although she graduated last month, the mural will be staying at Gallaudet to greet students for years to come. The epoxy paint that they used will last at least a decade, says Salaway, who is scouting out more potential sites for murals. “We’re going to continue. There are so many possibilities,” she says.

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