by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Concentric circles bullseye the center of the Goodyear Gallery public-mural wall. We see a jumble of buildings in black, white and gray. And to the left, a towering, a colorful plant sprouts up and dominates the scene.
That plant, Schweinitz's waterweed, is now extinct, but it was plentiful in this area when the muralist, Joelle Dietrick, grew up in Cumberland County, Pa., in a home just 25 miles away from the worst nuclear disaster on U.S. soil. The 1979 Three Mile Island event is one of several inspirational forces behind Dietrick’s 2021 mural at Dickinson, which interweaves themes of memory, climate change, public health and local history.
An outdoor reception for Dietrick’s Dickinson mural, Chasing the Sun, will be held tonight, Oct. 13, at the Goodyear Gallery from 5:30-6:30 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public.
Dietrick, an assistant professor of art and digital studies at Davidson College, is the latest visiting artist to serve a mural-project residency at Dickinson's Goodyear Gallery, which commissions a new public mural each year. Dietrick visited campus Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 to create Chasing the Sun with assistance from Dickinson students, faculty and staff.
Those concentric circles in the center of her work can be read as fallout-zone, such as those Dietrick would have seen on a map of Pennsylvania during the Three Mile Island disaster. Or you can view them as the time-zone borders that captivated Dietrick's daughter's imagination as the family “chased the sun” across time zones during a Fulbright trip to three continents. Or as a visualization of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in full force as Dietrick created the design.
“COVID spread, cancer spread, everyone in my immediate family having cancer, discovering radon in our basement during an eighth-grade science fair experiment, Three Mile Island evacuations, climate change, climate grief, personal decisions that make an impact, public design that causes change, the butterfly effect” all were on the artist’s mind as she designed the mural, Dietrick said, in a recent interview with the Carlisle Sentinel. “Art often works this way. Tapping into many topics in a fluid, gut-level way that is beyond what words can describe.”
Published October 12, 2021