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UVU unveils ‘Roots of Knowledge’ mural

By Braley Dodson daily Herald - | Nov 18, 2016
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The "Roots of Knowledge" art exhibit is pictured during its unveiling event Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at Utah Valley University in Orem. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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The "Roots of Knowledge" art exhibit is pictured during its unveiling event Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at Utah Valley University in Orem. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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The "Roots of Knowledge" art exhibit is pictured during its unveiling event Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at Utah Valley University in Orem. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Amber Oscarson, right, and Gayle Holdman react to the unveiling of the "Roots of Knowledge" installation as the curtain comes down during its unveiling event Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at Utah Valley University in Orem. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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The "Roots of Knowledge" art exhibit is pictured during its unveiling event Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at Utah Valley University in Orem. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Ira A. Fulton hugs UVU President Matthew Holland during the "Roots of Knowledge" unveiling event Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at Utah Valley University in Orem. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

After an audience countdown, the white curtains dropped and there was one collective gasp in the library of Utah Valley University. Then, as one, the crowd stood and applauded the explosive kaleidoscope of color and details that is the stained-glass mural, “Roots of Knowledge.”

“I don’t know what’s more gratifying, the windows or the looks on your faces,” Matthew Holland, the president of UVU, told the crowd, which immediately turned to complete silence as the mural’s artists took eight minutes to give an overview of the mural.

“Roots of Knowledge,” unveiled Friday afternoon, is made up of 80 panes of glass, reaching 10 feet high and stretching about 200 feet long. It details the history of humankind’s pursuit of knowledge, going from the prehistoric eras to the present. It’s made up of 60,000 pieces of glass, at a conservative estimate, and was developed out of Holdman Studios at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. More than 300 UVU students had their hands in the project at some point.

There are artifacts in the windows as well, including a Purple Heart, petrified wood, coins, an electronic time capsule and a piece of the Berlin Wall. Locals will be able to recognize familiar faces painted onto the glass.

The installation of the windows, which have been in the making for 12 years, marks the university’s 75th anniversary.

Tom Holdman, owner of Holdman Studios, and Cameron Oscarson, the lead artist on the project, quickly explained the mural to the audience.

The piece starts with a tree of knowledge and ends with a tree of hope, which branches off into flames.

“We are passing on the flame to those who will go after us,” Holdman said.

The tree of knowledge at the beginning of the mural feeds into the tree of hope, which in turn stretches roots back to the tree of knowledge, creating an eternal cycle.

Their hope is that viewers will experience the windows and be inspired to change the world for the better and pursue education. For the artists, that meant surviving and pushing through challenges and failure.

“The story we were trying to tell of humanity was the story we were living,” Oscarson said.

They took a moment to thank the team that made the project possible, putting in long hours ahead of looming deadlines.

“They had moments of greatness,” Oscarson said. “Absolute greatness.”

On Friday, there were tears from the artists and their families — before the project was even unveiled.

Holdman first approached Holland with the idea for the windows nine years ago. Holland was onboard with the idea with one request — make it bigger. Months later, Holdman returned with a vastly expanded idea.

“At that moment, I knew we were at the forefront of something very special,” Holland said.

Staff at the university reviewed panel content and made suggestions, expanding on the ideas the artist put forth and encouraging diversity and inclusivity in its content.

“It’s easy for any of us to imagine innovation from our culture’s perspective,” said Kate McPherson, an English professor and director of the honors program who was part of the project’s scholar team.

Students created more than 400 short encyclopedia entries for the panels, which include details and Easter eggs embedded into other details.

Holland referred to the “constellation of images” as one of UVU’s most spectacular examples of engaged learning.

“The windows themselves are standing embodiments of these themes,” he said.

“Roots of Knowledge” is available for the public to view as long as the library is open.

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