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Fine Art Students Create Spectacular Mural at National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi

San Francisco is officially an international site for peace pilgrimage, after opening the sole scale replica in the world of Saint Francis of Assisi’s famed Porziuncola, his beloved stone chapel in Italy.  The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi’s Porziuncola Nuova, embodying the important first phase of San Francisco’s Renaissance Project, was unveiled to the public by Cardinal William Levada and Angela Alioto, devoted project director and past President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  Across from the Porziuncola Nuova is a stunning original mural created by Academy of Art University School of Fine Art Painting graduate students, based on School of Giotto frescoes found in the Santa Chiara Church in Assisi.  Under the incisive artistic direction of master muralist Angela Tirrell, Academy of Art University MFA Painting students Jonathan Ahn, Ross Bowns, Nick Kiripolsky, Manar Laham, Sunghoon Lee, and Jason Zampol have created a richly detailed mural, paying homage to the master of medieval art whose work chronicled and celebrated St. Francis’ life.
In 2005 Angela Alioto and then Archbishop William Levada partnered to save the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi from the tragedy of an inevitable sale, and committed themselves and the church to establishing an international site of pilgrimage for all people who believe in St. Francis and his principles.  Alioto then asked Academy of Art University President Elisa Stephens to include the expertise of the school’s fine art students to create an original mural on the entry wall facing the Porziuncola Nuova, for which School of Fine Art Graduate Director Mark Tennant selected six immensely talented MFA Painting students.  In addition, the Academy of Art University secured professional commission muralist and fine artist Angela Tirrell to lead the mural from design to completion.

“Elisa Stephens and her Academy of Art University is San Franciscan,” shares Angela Alioto. “ Elisa is doing a wonderful thing for our city: the Academy of Art University is educating thousands of young artists, and they are a tremendous resource for our city.  I am thrilled to have such talented MFA painting students contribute to the Shrine.”

Gracing the entrance to the Luogo di Santa Chiara, the building housing the Porziuncola Nuova, the Academy of Art University mural was created through the design, transferring, and painting contributions of the six participating MFA students and the leading instruction of master muralist Angela Tirrell.  The student team moved from preliminary meetings with Alioto to the final touch-ups of gold leaf with unwavering dedication and discipline, devoting countless curriculum hours alongside Tirrell.  The mural project also served as the ultimate learning experience for the commissioner-artist relationship. As MFA student Jason Zampol states: “Homework and teachers do not compare with a client who wants a big job done fast and also beautifully executed.”

The team researched medieval motifs and created the first ornamental banding:  the linked stars and complex checkerboard patterns framing the mural and central arch.  Sunghoon Lee masterminded the beautiful digital elevation and Nick Kiripolsky refined the impressive scale of the design.  Parisian trained Jonathan Ahn made samples for the gold leaf stars, sun, and moon emblazoning the entry door, along with faux semi-precious stones. Manar Laham made vital contributions to the mixing of brilliant colors hours before the critical design presentation to Angela Alioto. Jason Zampol mapped out much of the decorative banding, as well as applying the glorious heavenly blue sky. Ross Bowns valiantly met an appeal for extra help.  “With their willing, intelligent presence, the student team quickly mastered the complexity of the project and completed this work of mysterious and hallowed beauty,” says Tirrell. 

“I am immensely proud of the dedication and artistic mastery the Academy of Art University’s MFA Painting students have shown throughout their work on this spectacular mural tribute to Saint Francis,” says Dr. Elisa Stephens, President of the Academy of Art University.  “It is a deep honor for the Academy of Art University to have an artistic hand in this sacred and internationally significant sanctuary.”

The Porziuncola Nuova and Academy of Art University Mural are housed in the Luogo di Santa Chiara at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi
624 Vallejo Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
Open Tuesdays through Sundays, from 10AM to 6PM


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