June 14, 2022

MEHLER | The Importance of Fine Art in the Dormitory Experience

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As Cornell now requires sophomores to live in on-campus housing, more students will spend their second year at Cornell in the West Campus houses, the new dorms within the North Campus Residential Expansion and in the heart of Collegetown in South Campus. While many may lament forgoing off-campus and being forced into dorms, there remains plenty of opportunity to personalize the Cornellian living space.

By no means am I encouraging students to violate Cornell’s housing policies regarding tapestries, flags and anything else that may violate fire code. However, creativity finds its home in constrained spaces with limited coverage of common rooms and bedrooms permitted. I wish to share just some of the fine art that composed my friends’ and my Hans Bethe dorm for our sophomore and junior years.

A piece of art tells a story. A piece of fine art tells an epic. The first piece of Bethe fine art I present is titled “A Champion.” Centered in a golden frame, Baby Luigi t-poses in his stylish cap and diaper, frequently finding a home on the windowsill that overlooks the center of West Campus. His unwavering gaze into the common room before him instills a memory of his origin. One fine night, in the midst of the pandemic-ridden fall 2020 semester, a war was set forth. Four of us would compete in the timeless battle of Mario Super Sluggers for the Nintendo Wii, but our teams would be selected by our opponents. In a last-ditch effort in the bottom of the ninth inning, the score zero to zero, Baby Luigi hit a homer and earned his spot in his golden frame.

While Baby Luigi’s epic drew from a tale of competition, other Bethe fine art inherently encouraged collaboration. For instance, the “suite funds” were an internal banking system in which all coins that returned home in our pockets found their way onto a porcelain, appetizer-shaped plate embellished by a painted pig; the piggy plate was our version of a piggy bank.

More transient than a picture or plate, our most ephemeral Bethe fine art came in the form of a whiteboard whose contents were a mixture of masterpieces, monsters and miscellaneous chemistry equations. Times denoting Cuphead speed runs, quotes spoken from the wisest of minds and colorful artwork that depicts nothing the brain can comprehend — the fine art on this literal canvas represented the daily shenanigans of pandemic and post-pandemic living.

Finally, our most precious Bethe fine art is not a piece of art at all. Steven, our reptilian mascot, provided comfort to all who held his green body tight and shone as a beacon in a room bristling with shades of red and yellow. In fact, this crocodile-alligator creature from Target became more than a mascot, but a symbol of the Bethe common room. No person could approach or take one’s leave from him without an authentic praise: “Hail Steven.”

In the background of pictures, in the everyday happenings of Cornell life and in the most important decisions made in our Bethe common room, these pieces of fine art helped define our dormitory experience. Baby Luigi, the piggy plate and Steven mean so little to others but mean everything to a set of boys brought together by the pandemic. I encourage every Cornellian, especially the class of 2025 who are about to all experience a sophomore dorm, to find your own fine art to decorate your new homes. The memories of these Bethe fine arts will remain entrenched in my Cornell experience, and I hope you too find your version of these friends at Cornell.

Patrick J. Mehler (he/him) is a rising senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Mehl-Man Delivers runs every other Tuesday this summer.