Graffiti Wall: 83 Years In the Making

Gretchen Allen at Graffiti Wall

When she visited Scripps as a prospective student, Gretchen Allen ’14, an art conservation major from Seattle, saw Graffiti Wall and thought, “I could do that. I could paint here.”

And the members of the Class of 2014 agree with her. In early April, seniors chose Allen’s design from 10 submissions. “It seems surreal,” she says, in the midst of the painting process. “I’ve been staring at this wall my entire time at Scripps. This is history, and now I’m painting on it.”

Graffiti Wall, which runs along the north side of the Rose Garden, began with the College’s first graduating class in 1931. Graduates signed their names around an image, and a tradition was born. Today, the wall boasts its 83rd mural, for this year’s graduating class.

Each year, students are invited to submit designs, which must leave enough space for signatures of the entire class. The graduating seniors then choose the winning design, and the wall is painted and signed prior to Commencement.

In 2007, the College hired a curator to renovate many of the wall’s paintings, some of which had been painted over or weather-damaged. The College plans to continue the renovation process, working from archival photos of the wall’s original designs.

“Many of the murals are reflective of the students’ fondest memories of Scripps,” says Judy Harvey Sahak ’64, Sally Preston Swan Librarian for Denison Library. “They reflect incidents and events that were significant to them during their time at the College. It’s really the most important piece of art on campus; important because it draws all generations of students together. It’s a little snapshot of what each decade was like.”

Sahak lists among her favorite depictions the Class of 1974, whose image originated from a scandalous “Dear Abby” letter sent in by Scripps students, and the Class of 1946, whose design brings world history home to Scripps, with a Scripps graduate in blue jeans, riding high atop the world after the war.

This year’s art incorporates two Scripps icons — La Semeuse, the Scripps seal, and the Greek Goddess Athena, from CMS Athletics. Of her illustration, Allen says, “It represents both wisdom and the growth of knowledge, embodied in a female form. I added the wisteria vine and squirrel as fun Scripps touches.”

“The painting reflects my time here. Scripps is a place to grow both as a person and as an academic,” she adds. “My four years here have helped me solidify and nurture a strong sense of self, as well as form lasting friendships with empowered, intelligent, and inspiring women.”


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