University Museums

Title: Nuclear Reactor Process
Name: Mural
Date: 1967
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 85 x 145 in. (215.9 x 368.3 cm)
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Spedding Hall
Object Number: U89.60
More Information
A crippling disease has confined him to a wheel­ chair. But the artist in him carries him to soaring heights.
The artist, Edward Gurganus worked 300 hours to paint the 7 by 12 feet mural which now decorates the wall outside the renovated Spedding Hall conference room on the third floor. The mural was originally located at the entrance to the nuclear reactor facility of the Ames Laboratory before the reactor's decommissioning in 1978.
The work of art vividly portrays the reactor core in a ten-sided prism, fuel elements, control room, personnel working in different departments and labs, and other aspects of the research reactor. It also shows the overhead water tank, utility and safety system, and practical aspects of nuclear research in the form of irradiated seeds for farming. The mural was completed in 1967.
"In the beginning, during the erection, the site was just concrete, nuts, bolts and pipes. However, as the work progressed, more and more people became involved and the reactor became a supersystem throbbing with life and identity. What is true for a ship (the crew determines the value of a ship), is also true for an integrated system like a research reactor," says Gurganus who has a knack of giving an artistic turn to science.
"Being involved in training personnel for the reactor erection, I had glimpses of how people interacted with the system. I tried to integrate the human element with the hardware without sacrificing scientific details," recalls Gurganus, musing over the past with nostalgia.
"I set out in a systematic way. To begin with I made a cartoon (line drawing) depicting the rough idea of the mural. Then I prepared separate pictures depicting the scenes in and outside the reactor."
Undeterred by multiple sclerosis, which restricts him to the wheelchair, the 59-year­ old artist continues.
Explaining the beginning of his own afflictions, Gurganus says, “The disease started sometime in 1965. I had a little problem with my hands and could not stand on my legs for long periods to work on the mural. Hence, I took more time to complete it than originally planned. I retired in 1974, and since 1977 I have been confined to this chair. Many friends from the Lab drop out to my house for coffee periodically to share new and interesting developments.”
Article from “Newsletter for the Employees of the Ames Laboratory”, vol. 1 no. 6, June 1990