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Man in the mural: DePaul art professor Brother Mark Elder

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As tourists pull into the Fullerton station on the Red, Purple and Brown Lines, they’re greeted by a friendly face peering down upon Wish Field that’s often confused for a plethora of different figures. It’s the Pope, right? DePaul is a Catholic campus after all. Not the Pope? Maybe Willie Nelson? Or Jacques Cousteau?

These are just a few of the people Brother Mark Elder has heard over the last 13 years as to who is painted along the side of McCabe Hall. But it’s neither the Pope, Nelson nor Cousteau. The answer is even more obvious. It’s St. Vincent DePaul, and Elder is the man who created the 68-foot mural titled “We Are DePaul2″ in 2001.

But it’s not just St. Vincent DePaul in the mural. It’s all of DePaul – in theory.

“I had my idea and I said, ‘What if I developed a concept where a mural could be made of seemingly a limitless amount of component parts of actual pictures of real people at DePaul?” Elder said. “We Are DePaul2″ is made completely of a series of rubber stamp portraits of faculty, students and staff members at the university.

“What you’re looking at is a huge paint- by-number,” Elder said. “There are just five tones, so literally you can take this rubber stamp, take a little paint put it on a glass palette and you pile them up into a tone, and you go from one section to another.”

While “We Are DePaul2″ has become somewhat of a landmark, McCabe wasn’t the original canvas. And this mural isn’t the original either. With a name like “We Are DePaul2,” it seems obvious there was once a “We Are DePaul.” And there was. Before O’Connell, Levan and the Schmitt Academic Center were connected as one cohesive building, there was once an open plaza.

The original “Big Vinny” as it is colloquially referred to by Elder, sat on the south-side wall. Elder began raising the $35,000 necessary to create the original mural in 1997, a project that was part of DePaul’s centennial celebration in 1998.

“It was the type of mural back then where routinely you could walk by it and you would see at least two or three people any time of the day say, ‘Oh I know that guy,'” Elder said. “It naturally dawned on people that as they looked they realized, ‘Oh I’m part of this too.'”

But just four short years later Elder got an email from the university’s administration while painting a mural in Rome in the summer. He was told that there was going to be a building contracted on top of the mural, and it would have to find a new home.

“We Are DePaul2″ may be the most prominent mural Elder has had his hand in on campus, but it’s certainly not the only one. “We used to have a whole bunch, we don’t have as many anymore, but odds are if you see it I probably had something to do with it,” Elder said. “You can pretty much ask anybody, ‘(Did) Brother Mark have something to do with it?’ ‘Oh, yeah, he did.'” Many of the murals that remain come out of Elder’s ART 291 class, a course in the art, media and design program that focuses on mural painting. The most recent works are the murals in Munroe Hall’s lobby and Radio DePaul’s office in the basement of University Hall. Elder, a DePaul alumnus, has been working at the university for the past 19 years.

He teaches the ART 291 class and ART 383 (Service Learning in the Arts Internship), as well as varying Discover Chicago courses. He’s also given himself the persona of the “Art Internship Czar,” passing along internship and job opportunities to art and art history majors and minors.

“Occasionally when I write these big emails I feel challenged to write something humorous so (students) will actually read what I have to offer,” Elder said. “Last few times I haven’t been able to do that, but I’m feeling more inspired.”

It’s no surprise that a man who paints giant scenes on buildings has a giant personality to match. On Elder’s website, which displays his murals and other professional work, the home page has the header “Muralist. Educator. Cowboy.” next to a photo of the “Buffalo Bro” himself.

Elder’s first two descriptors are obvious, but if this were a game of “one of these things is not like the other,” cowboy would be the winner.

“The old Buffalo Bro, he’s kind of a performance artist,” Elder said. “If you look into the kind of thing that Buffalo Bill did for his Wild West show … he kind of represents to me the Western Christ figure.”

Elder, as a Vincentian Brother, takes the same vow to the church as a priest but isn’t ordained. As the Buffalo Bro, Elder can be seen around DePaul’s campus and beyond in standard cowboy regalia – cowboy hat, suede fringed coat, neckerchief and a silver chain adorned with turquoise and a silver buffalo attached. It’s no surprise he stands out amongst the rest of Lincoln Park, but it’s all part of the show.

“I have these weird Western clothes on, (so) it challenges the viewer to look further into the motivation behind it,” Elder said. “What you see, you can either accept it for what it is or reject it. People like to look at the outer markings of people and they make judgments without really talking to them, so I wear this stuff purely to be provocative so that people have to ask at least themselves and be challenged by it in a way.” 

While Elder’s dress might be a little more Wille Nelson than Jacques Cousteau, just like “We Are DePaul2,” there’s much more than meets the eye.

About the Writer
Courtney Jacquin, Editor in Chief

Courtney was editor in chief in 2014-2015. Before that Courtney was the Managing Editor and Arts & Life Editor. You can follow her on twitter @courtneyjacquin

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Man in the mural: DePaul art professor Brother Mark Elder