A key tenet of Fairmont State University’s mission is a commitment to transformational impact; not only is that commitment put into practice daily by members of the Falcon Family within lecture halls, labs and virtual classrooms, but it is also evident through their meaningful contributions to the greater community and beyond.
Joel Dugan, Chair of Fairmont State University’s Department of Architecture Art & Design, sees art as more than just a profession; it’s also a valuable tool that can be used to revive connections between communities and their histories through revitalization and preservation.
Dugan’s commitment to revitalization through art was displayed on Friday when several local entities -- the City of Fairmont, the Marion County Commission, the Allegheny Image Factory and Main Street Fairmont – united on Monroe Street in downtown Fairmont to unveil a mural, created by Dugan himself, that depicts one of the community’s most cherished traditions: the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
“Art is a conduit to get people around the table asking questions,” said Dugan, who is also a Main Street Fairmont board member. “It enables us to retain elements of a town’s history so they don’t get withered away and lost.”
The mural, entitled “The Feast,” pays homage to the long-celebrated Italian-American, Roman Catholic Christmas Eve tradition in which families dine on a variety of seafood dishes while they observe an abstinence from meat until Christmas Day. The tradition’s presence within the area is strong; each year, a community-wide celebration is held through Fairmont’s downtown streets where residents mingle, shop local vendors and enjoy varieties of seafood cuisine. With the digital installation of Dugan’s mural, community members and visitors alike will also be able to enjoy a visual representation of the tradition at future celebrations.
“The mural is set up so that if people stand at the edge of sidewalk, they’ll find themselves in a similar vantage point as a young child who is looking over the table in celebration,” said Dugan.
“The Feast,” which measures 18 feet tall and 50 feet wide, was inspired by the book and film “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” written and produced by West Virginia resident and Fairmont State alumnus Robert Tinnell. Tinnell’s work has significantly influenced the annual, city-wide celebration; he says he is pleased to see the ways in which the book, film, festival and now the mural are able to provide community-members a tangible way to get lost in nostalgia and revisit their memories.
“For people in Marion County and this area, whether they’re Italian or not, they are very aware of the tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve,” said Tinnell. “In a sense, art has allowed the tradition to be reinvigorated; when people watch the movie or see the mural, they are also able to see themselves. The community support throughout the production of the film and the creation of the festival in the wake of the film was incredibly humbling, and now, seeing the community get behind this project and seeing Joel’s talent at work reinterpreting it, has been extraordinary.”
The unveiling of “The Feast” took place at 11 a.m. on Friday, April 16, where the public gathered for remarks from Dugan, Tinnell, Tim Liebrecht, Main Street Fairmont Executive Director, Fairmont State President, Mirta Martin, Marion County Commissioner, Linda Longstreth, and Fairmont Mayor, Tom Mainella.
"When people watch the film that this mural is based on, they’re overcome with the sense of family, togetherness and community," said Mirta M. Martin, Fairmont State University President. "This mural by the exceptional artist and beloved Fairmont State Professor, Joel Dugan, not only perfectly captures that feeling, but it also would not be here were it not for those very same ideals put to practice through a dynamic partnership. Along with Professor Dugan, the City of Fairmont, Marion County and Main Street Fairmont pulled together to make this shared vision possible."