Chemistry Depicted in Art
By Gretchen Schneider and Shelly Kleinpeter | December 2020
Displayed in the entrance lobby of Arthur Choppin Hall, hangs an abstract architectural painting titled “Local Matter.” The large canvas is full of bright colored layers that glow as the focal point of the room. As students and faculty enter the building or study in the lobby, the painting is hard to miss. In addition to adding color to the lobby, the painting also has hidden meaning and importance for the department.
Origin of the Painting
During an officer meeting in February 2007, members of the LSU Chapter of Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS) felt Choppin Hall needed enhancement. “Our department was not being reflected in the atmosphere,” shared Becky Vidrine.
The 2006-2007 LSU SAACS officers: Lisa Brown, president (B.S., 2007); Mary Sorrell, vice president (B.S., 2007); Becky Vidrine Pierce, public relations officer (B.S., 2008) felt a gallery wall would revive the space and inspire creative conversations and thinking.
"SAACS had enough money from selling student note packets and we wanted to invest in something lasting for the department before we graduated,” said Vidrine Pierce.
Pierce spearheaded the commission with then art major Nyssa Juneau. LSU SAACS members showed Juneau around the facility for inspiration. After viewing several art sketches, the committee felt Juneau’s creative technique and vision was perfect to capture the essence of the department.
“We had a great time in SAACS and felt a significant sense of responsibility toward our department compared with other students around campus,” Viderine Pierce said.
The Chemistry of the Art
The painting is not only beautiful art; Juneau incorporated chemical elements and properties into her design to show how chemistry impacts every aspect of the building, not just the labs inside.
“Science itself has a lot of art in various types of data and microscopy. Art and science go hand in hand,” Brown said.
Juneau’s approach to the painting involved the use patterns based on the science of the building’s composition and environment. With help of SAACS members, Juneau found a molecule model picture of water and used it as the basis for the clouds in the sky of the painting.
On the building itself, there is a repeated pattern on top of the building layer. Juneau wanted to use the composition of the outer building material, a limestone concrete base of the panel and mortar between the panels. One type of cement is calcium hydroxide cement [Ca(OH)2]. Thus, Juneau found a model of Ca(OH)2 and created a stencil. She then used the stencil to paint various colors over the building’s façade. This technique helps viewers see the dedicated work of the department reflected in the building itself.
Since its installation in September 2007, many students have passed the painting on their academic journey at LSU. Choppin Hall is an important place on campus for chemistry students. Whether it be graduate students gathering in the lobby to grade papers or undergrads studying together before a big exam, Choppin’s lobby is a place for collaboration both in and out of the classroom. This tribute to Choppin Hall highlights all the important work done within the classrooms and labs that makes the department so notable and attracts so many to LSU.
As for Juneau, the opportunity allowed her to work as a commissioned artist for the first time and solidify her career path. “The project served as an element of validation that I wanted to do art full-time,” said Juneau. “It is also great learning my artwork was given as a gift of appreciation for the department.”
About the Artist: Nyssa Juneau received her Bachelor of Fine Arts In Studio Art with a concentration in Painting & Drawing in 2008. She is one of the founding members of the Painters' League at LSU, an organization for students either majoring or expressing an interest in painting. Juneau currently works as a grants assistant for the Houston Arts Alliance and teaches perspective drawing at the Art League Houston. In February 2021, she hopes to launch a full-time career as an artist. For more information about Juneau and her art collection, visit her online gallery.