In the spring of 1974, Adrienne Ferretti ’76 and Lou Vastola ’75 proposed to their biology professor, Walter Kanzler, an alternative to their final term paper for their class on evolution. Could they instead paint a mural depicting evolution on the science building’s fourth floor, home of the biology department? “Yes, as long as you promise to finish it,” he told them. “You can’t quit in the middle.”
They ended up working on it for over a year, until Vastola graduated. They spent the following summer and two semesters’ worth of late nights in the building, painting the mural. But in exchange for their pains, now they have the bragging rights: What other undergraduate term paper is still being looked at every day, 45 years later?
On a recent visit to Wagner, Ferretti and Vastola explained that they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they made their proposal to Dr. Kanzler. They were both biology majors. Vastola was an art minor, and Ferretti had taken one art class.
They planned to paint a mural of each period from the Cambrian until the Pleistocene sequentially down the hallway. They stopped with the Cretaceous period, centering on a Tyrannosaurus rex, in one of the largest mural panels.
They based their paintings of ancient creatures, ranging from trilobites to triceratops, on whatever resources they could find in the library or in textbooks.
The murals also contain some inside jokes. Vastola points out a cockroach in the Mississippian panel. Why? Because Dr. Kanzler loved cockroaches. He often carried Madagascar hissing cockroaches to class in his lab coat pocket.
After college, Ferretti went to dental school at New York University. She is still practicing dentistry on Staten Island. Vastola went to the New York Chiropractic College and had a family practice in Vermont for 25 years; he then studied anti-aging and functional medicine, and had a practice in that field in Manhattan. Now he lives in Queens and practices as a natural healer and medical intuitive.
Another student, whose identity is not known, finished the mural, dating it 1977. That student had an impish sense of humor, painting the Homo sapiens emerging at the end with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
To this day, the mural explodes with life on the walls between doors and underneath bulletin boards. The mural lends the biology department’s hallway a playful and creative flair, in contrast to the sober, regimented patterns of the building’s Brutalist architectural style.