Smokestack Update: Reaching the Top

Ava Compagnoni,

 The 120-foot Ursinus smokestack has received a new and improved look, thanks to Brooklyn artist Katie Merz. The smokestack has been painted to reflect the memories of the Ursinus College Class of 2020. Merz took submissions from members of the class to depict on the smokestack. She translated the memories relayed in interviews with students into symbols. Hundreds of symbols, individual letters, and shapes combine to tell the stories from and about the Class of 2020. Merz stuck around campus for a while before beginning this process, to become knowledgeable about the spirit of Ursinus. The understanding of location and the atmosphere that the campus brings added to her internal hard drive of shapes, language and imagery to be portrayed on the smokestack. She had no plans as to what the design was going to be before arriving: she took each day as it came and went. She looked at the smokestack as an unfinished puzzle, progressing as each symbol was fitted correctly. When asked about the size of the project, Merz explained that she was concerned, especially since she has a fear of heights and the project stands over 100 feet in the air. “The unimaginable reality of being up that high on the lift, but after that, my major concern during the whole project was scale. The scale gradually gets larger so that the farther you get from it — you can still read it in the same way as you can if you are up close,” says Merz. When looking at the bottom of the smokestack, the details are very clear, to make the scale smaller, more compressed and readable from the ground. But her final adjustment to the top involved making sure that the “U 2020” could be clearly seen from all points on campus. While the smokestack is covered in hundreds of symbols and hidden meanings of the Class of 2020’s favorite memories from their time at Ursinus. Merz reflects back on her finished artwork and says on her favorite piece of the project. “The most memorable part of the process was correcting the U at the top on our last day in 15 mph wind. I wanted to make the U more readable. While the lift was swaying, the experience was harrowing and comical and definitely memorable” says Merz. With that experience, she accredits her partner, Ty, who had to go back up and finish it alone while I texted him with the corrections from the ground. That’s what partners are for! While painting the smokestack was a fun and exciting project, it simultaneously displays heartfelt emotions from Merz, the Class of 2020, and the entire Ursinus community. After the unexpected tragedy of losing Aidan Inteso, Merz thought it right that he should be remembered on the smokestack as well. “The most heartfelt part of the creation was drawing the homage to Aidan. When I received the news, I immediately drew his name and the two hockey sticks into the stack. It was not an abstract shape but a real life memorial, I am glad he will be remembered in this mural,” states Merz. Growth is important to an artist. They ask themselves progressive questions: How have I grown from this piece? Merz feels that the Ursinus smokestack was a very influential project. “I am more confident in my ability to take on something unimaginably difficult and it felt effortless. I realized that the intuitive knowledge of the body to measure complex hand/eye proportions in real time is absolutely wild. I usually work intuitively but I have never been more challenged by this scale and height,” says Merz. She credits her growth to the Ursinus community, supporting her through the project. Just as our community has been impacted by the integrity of Merz’s work, she feels that the school has impacted her greatly, too. “I am so floored by this school, completely overwhelmed by how intimate, caring, ethical and timeless Ursinus is; the smokestack is a collaboration with that spirit. I hope I have given something to this amazing College that everyone can read from and have as theirs.” Ursinus College is noticeably impacted by Katie’s work, both visually and emotionally. Once the Class of 2020 gets to see the smokestack in its decorated towering glory, they too will feel the change on campus.