2 IVCC alums work to bring college history mural to life

IVCC commissioned 10-foot-high by 20-foot-wide mural to recognize 100-year anniversary

Morgan Phillips works on an arm of one of the contemporary figures in the mural. Phillips and Emily Maze, both Illinois Valley Community College alums, also have worked on other public art murals in the area.

This spring, Morgan Phillips and Emily Maze will leave their mark on Illinois Valley Community College in a way neither could have predicted when they were students there.

Stroke by stroke, their brush with history emerges inside a repurposed church in Rutland. The nave now holds a congregation of three and a tall wooden frame that supports an aluminum substrate on which Maze and Phillips are bringing Ray Paseka’s vision of IVCC to life.

IVCC commissioned the 10-foot-high-by-20-foot-wide mural to recognize its 100-year anniversary this year. The art will be mounted above the C-Building entrance, where separate aluminum canvases will span the wall as seamlessly as Paseka’s subject has bridged the decades from La Salle-Peru High School to the 21st century Oglesby campus.

A founder of Westclox Studios in Mendota, Paseka’s public art palette includes Cherry’s coal history and Streator’s trompe l’oeil streetscape in Heritage Park. Phillips and Maze have assisted in recent projects capturing Mendota’s railroad history and Seneca’s shipbuilding, canal and transportation past.

Their latest indoor work will be displayed in a unique gallery in full view of streams of college students, parents, alumni, high school tours, arriving freshmen, theatergoers and campus visitors, Paseka said.

“This is important stuff. It will make a lasting impression on everyone. There will be hundreds of young people walking through the corridor, and this will permanently effect them,” said Paseka, who is no stranger to how public art projects influence the communities around them.

Maze and Phillips understand because they feel the power, too. Maze said she has been fascinated with public art projects since she saw the Chicago Cows Parade. She said she likes the idea of “being able to see the physical product of what you create.”

“The community looks better, and that makes me excited, which makes others excited,” Maze said.

Phillips agreed.

“It’s nice to see people excited and feeling better about their community,” Phillips said. “Some people don’t feel like there’s a lot out here in rural Illinois for them, but there’s more here than they think.”

They said they enjoy the historical insights their mural work has brought them, but learning what has been lost to time also saddens them.

Phillips grew up in IVCC’s halls, where she and her brother spent school breaks while their father, Mike, taught his geology classes.

“We might have wandered farther afield than he realized,” she said.

But the exploration paid off later as a student when “finding my classrooms was no problem.”

Maze’s IVCC association is more recent, but her family’s history in the Illinois Valley began even before the college’s. She recently finished a portrait of her many great-grandfathers Maze on a giant sawblade that hangs in the company office and fuses her family past with her own present.

“She has a gift with scrap metal,” Phillips said.

Maze welds the assorted odd shapes she collects into pleasing animals and other designs. She became intrigued with metalwork since working with Paseka, who enjoys many varieties of art and sculpting.

Although they dabbled in art as children, degree pursuits pushed them toward tourism and parks administration (Maze) and industrial design (Phillips).

Maze still plays the French horn in the Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra. Phillips is seeking political office.

Weeks into the IVCC project, the mural’s principal foreground characters are almost fleshed out. Maze and Phillips, paint-splattered from shoulder to sneaker toe, stand or kneel on a floor protectively sheathed against splashes and drips. Scaffolding has been temporarily set aside but will be used again to complete the complex background.

Maze airbrushes finishing touches on the iconic L-P High School clock tower at her old high school, pausing between bursts to examine the effects.

Phillips invites a closer glance at one of the figures, where she has embellished a young man’s wristwatch with a tiny Westclox Studios on its face in a nod both to her studio and the area’s clock-making history. She also laced the modern campus setting with spring buds and foliage, relishing every moment of a full-color splurge after long immersion in vintage monochrome.

Paseka created two couples, one vintage pair comparing ideas over a typewriter with the clock tower behind them and a modern pair collaborating over laptops against a backdrop of IVCC’s ultramodern roofline.

Paseka studies his handiwork with satisfaction, noting how postures, props and settings animate and distinguish the eras in both halves before imagery knits them together.

“Brilliant ideas from the past affect today, and ideas today owe the past,” he said.

He encourages his assistants to embrace the past but move beyond it.

“Artists don’t always like to branch into unusual challenges,” Paseka said. “I want them to take their skills and accelerate to a higher level and not be afraid of it.”

Artist Emily Maze touches up an iconic clock tower on an indoor mural commemorating Illinois Valley Community College’s 100 years. The community college was once housed at La Salle-Peru High School. The mural will be installed over the C-Building entrance.
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