Walking through Gannon’s campus, one might expect to find beautiful artwork in many places. You’d think to find it at the Schuster Gallery in Nash Library or Gannon’s Schuster Theatre. You wouldn’t generally expect to find art decorating the walls of an academic building. However, expectations can be wrong.
The Palumbo Academic Center is home to a notable and impressive mural from one of Erie’s own, Joseph Plavcan. The artist studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before receiving the Cresson Scholarship. This allowed him to tour several European countries, where his enthusiasm for color in artwork was developed. Upon returning to the States, Plavcan began fostering his love of art in other people. He began teaching at Erie Technical School in 1932, where he remained a teacher until 1970.
Plavcan was commissioned to paint a mural for the Erie Press Club in the 1940s. The mural’s depiction of reporters developing stories of local, national, and international stories was fitting for the club. The Press Club housed the mural for many years until their building was torn down approximately 50 years ago. After the demolition of the building, Plavcan’s children came into possession of the mural. They had the artwork carefully stored until they eventually decided to donate the piece to Gannon University.
The 7 by 23 foot mural was donated to Gannon in 2009 and has been housed in the Palumbo Academic Center ever since. The oil on canvas painting shows events in history ranging from the Millcreek Flood of 1915 to the Tokyo bombing. The local and international reach of the painting makes it historically valuable. However, the depiction of the priest surrounded by Gannon students in the center of the piece, showing Gannon as the heart of the community, is what makes the painting right at home in Gannon’s corridors.
Looking at the piece you might not guess that it took a large donation from Gannon University’s Schuster Fund for the Arts to frame and hang the mural or that it took 8 people to unroll and stand the canvas upright in order to be hung. However, it’s easy to see why the Plavcan mural is a perfect addition to Palumbo. The historical, artistic and collegiate aspects of the painting make it one of a kind and a perfect addition to Gannon’s history. But it’s the inspiration and beauty the piece gives to Gannon students daily that truly make it invaluable.