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Framed chalk artwork of the Immaculate Conception statue on a pillar inset on a photograph of the artist.

Chalk Art ‘Guided by the Brilliance of Mary’

By Michele Jennings

When visitors walk into the Marian Library Gallery and take in the current exhibit, Mary in Catholic Education, they’re greeted by a set of five pieces of chalk art mounted in frames.

These works, created by first-year student Cecilia Martyna (@ccsketchyartist), are the result of a commission — a formal arrangement between the artist and the Marian Library to produce a piece of artwork. But how do commissions like this come about? What’s the process between commission and finished product?


Martyna’s work came to the attention of Marian Library faculty and staff through her large-scale outdoor chalk art and murals around campus, and UD’s 2023 Christmas video featured her creating a festive UD illustration in front of the Immaculate Conception Chapel. This playful evocation of the schoolyard through the medium of chalk art was a perfect fit for Mary in Catholic Education, and the idea for the commission was born.

Meeting of the minds

Staff reached out to Martyna through her website and scheduled a meeting to discuss the exhibit and the commission. At the end of January, Martyna and Marian Library faculty and staff gathered in the reading room to explain the exhibit, view inspiration photos and statues, and share early ideas around the design of the exhibit. 

Martyna shared her thoughts and explained her process for chalk art that could be installed indoors instead of ephemerally on pavement. To accomplish this, she would create the artwork on tar paper (the same kind used for roofing) and use hairspray as a fixative.

The meeting concluded with a walk-through of the Marian Library Gallery to view the space and take measurements. 

Sketches, review

Toward the end of February, Martyna confirmed the details of the commission — the number of pieces and their dimensions; sketches of the artwork; and confirmation that she would deliver the works in time for the exhibit’s opening on March 4. After being framed behind glass to preserve the pieces and prevent chalk transfer to walls and other artwork or collection items, the works were installed.

Mission-centered experiential learning

The finished artwork complements Mary in Catholic Education — and UD’s educational mission — in many ways:

  • It provided a paid experiential learning opportunity for a UD student growing an art practice.
  • It references images and statues of Mary used to educate students on campus.
  • It harmonizes with the design and message of the exhibit.
  • It grows the Marian Library’s art collection into a new medium.
  • Marian Library collections and expertise were woven into the UD curriculum.

Itself the product of a semester-long experiential learning project in teacher education, Mary in Catholic Education is as much an exploration into Mary’s role as educator as a demonstration of the possibilities of learning through doing, interacting with material culture, and understanding the relationship of education and vocation.

How to see the exhibit and earn credits

Catholic educators who want to see the exhibit, explore how Mary and the Marian Library can be a presence in Catholic education, and earn a CEU or Vocare credit are invited to Catholic Educator Workshop from 9:30 a.m. to noon June 6; the workshop is free, but registration is required by May 31.

— Michele Jennings is an assistant professor and special collections instruction librarian in the Marian Library.

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