Mike Kender, a finance professor and Virginia Tech alumnus, can fondly recall his experiences as an undergraduate.
Few of those memories, however, persisted over the past 29 like the Thomas Hall commons mural.
The unnamed mural was designed and painted in the winter of 1983 and remains intact today in the first floor common room.
A creation of a group of Thomas's more familial residents, it portrays a vast valley separating Thomas and Burruss Halls and is adorned with a unicorn-Pegasus flying overhead.
“I was the first floor RA, and we had this TV lounge with this ugly, dingy wall that was all scraped up. We were looking for ideas on how to fill the space,” Kender said. “We had these two kids who were great artists. They said to us, if you guys buy us the paint, we’ll make the mural.”
The artists were Ben Eisenschmidt and Eugene Evon, two of the many upperclassmen living in Thomas Hall at the time.
According to Evon, who now lives in Silicon Valley, the theme for the mural was to emphasize the pride of Thomas Hall.
“My intent was to re-brand Thomas Hall, which was a very plain, 'temporary to handle the post-WWII GI Bill student influx' brick building, in a more glorious light,” Evon said.
“So I put an aggrandized version of Thomas Hall up high on a hill, in a dramatic pose of strength, like a classic mountaintop castle,” Evon said. “I also put it far away from Burruss Hall, the only other building we chose, which of course represents the Hokie Stone heart of Virginia Tech. We were connected by a path, but we were the furthest dorm away in that direction. Life on the edge.”
However, the design for the mural was missing something, which to the conception of what is arguably the most memorable subject in Evon’s layout.
“A painting of two buildings, no matter how dramatic we staged them, is just a scenic view. A real painting tells a story. It inspires,” Evon said. “I had already been toying around with the mash-up of a Unicorn and a Pegasus, which I dubbed a ‘Pegacorn,’ and thought it would be perfect to represent the aspirational fantasies we young dorm residents had.”
The idea flew with the Residence Hall Federation, the authorities in charge of monitoring the design, so the Evon began the first draft.
“The RHF said it was a great idea, as long as there were no obscenities or topless women or whatever might be in bad taste,” Kender laughed.
“They agreed to put up all the money for the supplies, and the guys got to work.”
Not long into the endeavor, however, Evon got a co-op job, and had to leave the mural unfinished.
Eisenschmidt, already recognized for his work in painting fantasy art, was able to finish the rough draft Evon had left.
“Quite frankly, he was heads and tails above my league with painting technique,” Evon recalled. “Ben was motivated to finish the project and did an amazing job. He totally ‘got’ my vision, and then some.”
Now, nearly 30 years after its completion, the mural stands as a reminder for Kender and Evon of the unity the residents felt so long ago.
“We were a fun dorm with a really good group of people. Great relationships between the residents and RAs,” Kender said. “It was something special.”