It’s a very reflective piece, very full circle. It’s symbolic of all the time I spent at Bridgewater. From the times I stayed overnight on campus in the art building getting my work done, to just sitting on campus and taking in how beautiful it is.
This summer, alumna Samantha Cushman, ’19, G’23, was back on campus, paintbrush in hand, to continue the tradition of creating the annual Turchon tunnel mural.
Bridgewater State University has commissioned an artist for each of the past six years to paint the campus landmark named after former BSU Foundation member Carolyn (Van Buskirk) Turchon, ’62.
Cushman currently works as an elementary art teacher in Rockland and is the first BSU alumna to create a mural for the tunnel.
“It makes me feel so proud to be able to do this, to have my work featured at a place I spent so much time at,” she said. “It’s very validating and surreal.”
When it came time to select this year’s artist, BSU Associate Director of Collection and Exhibitions Jay Block knew he wanted to hire Cushman.
“Her message of ecological diversity and accessible imagery made her a great candidate for a public work like the tunnel, matched with her professionalism as an artist,” Block said.
It isn’t the first time Cushman has shared her talents with the BSU community. As a graduate student, Block asked Cushman to paint one of the university’s fiberglass bear statues (it still stands by the East Campus Commons). Using only black and white colors, she decorated the bear with an array of native Massachusetts plants.
“That project turned into my thesis project for my master’s degree where I focused on the importance of native Massachusetts flora and how it’s affected by invasive species,” Cushman said.
For this year’s mural, while she did use some native floral imagery, Cushman abandoned her usual black-and-white palette and instead infused bright colors throughout the mural.
“I don’t usually work in color. I stepped outside of my comfort zone,” she said. “It’s very striking, and I’m happy with how it turned out.”
Along with the flora, multiple buildings from across campus are included, such as Boyden Hall and the Art Building. Cushman also used personal symbols to reflect her time as a student at BSU.
“It’s a very reflective piece, very full circle. It’s symbolic of all the time I spent at Bridgewater. From the times I stayed overnight on campus in the art building getting my work done, to just sitting on campus and taking in how beautiful it is,” she said.
The project has boosted Cushman’s confidence as an artist, and she is thankful to Block for believing in her.
“This is a big opportunity, that I get to be an artist and not just a student anymore,” she said. “It’s been a fun transition...to be an actual working artist. I’m dedicating the mural to Jay and all members of the art department, as they’ve been a second family to me during my time at Bridgewater.”
Cushman hopes those who view the mural will enjoy it while it is on display during the 2023-24 academic year.
Does it bother her that her work will eventually be replaced?
“Not at all,” she said. “I think having these opportunities available for multiple artists is important and I think, especially when it comes to public art, when you leave it up too long people tire of it,” she said. “Being able to offer this opportunity to the next person who needs is, that is really cool.”
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