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Mystery at the Library

Theresa McDevitt in a Stabley Library stairwell.

Theresa McDevitt in a Stabley Library stairwell. Photo: Keith Boyer

Theresa McDevitt M’89 can identify with Mysteries at the Museum host Don Wildman, who delves into the stories behind fascinating artifacts on his popular Travel Channel series.

McDevitt, IUP’s outreach librarian, became engrossed in a mystery of her own.

She has long admired a 13½-by-7-foot mural that adorns a stairwell wall at Stabley Library between the first and ground floors, not far from her office. It depicts Native Americans sending smoke signals, Africans beating on drums, prehistoric figures painting on a cave wall, a monk copying a text, hieroglyphics, a printing press and rolls of newsprint, assorted magazines and newspapers, a man operating a film projector in a classroom, and an envelope postmarked Key West, Florida, July 26, 1966. The mural is signed W. A. Hawxhurst.

What, McDevitt wondered, is its back story?

“Why was it painted there?” she asked. “Was it done for a class? Why is there a reference to Key West? What is it even called?”

McDevitt sought to solve the mystery and ultimately found some answers…in Key West. Artist Wayne Hawxhurst ’53, M’70 settled in the Florida Keys after earning his undergraduate degree in art education at what was then Indiana State Teachers College. McDevitt mailed a photo of the mural to his widow, Key West resident Susan Josephson Hawxhurst ’66, M’69, hoping to stir some memories. Mission accomplished.

“I believe the theme is learning and communication through the ages,” Susan Hawxhurst said. “It has different modes of communication from caveman times up to what was being used in the 1960s. But it also has serious tones of education. You see, my husband was so steeped in education. He was an avid reader—he was going to the library all the time.”

She recalls seeing the mural in Stabley even before meeting Wayne in 1969, when both were graduate students.

“I was officially introduced to him by a lady named Betty O’Hara, who worked as a secretary to Dr. [Lawrence] McVitty, chair of the Art Department,” she recalled. “Wayne was a friend of her brother, Bernie Ganley.”

Ganley, then an administrative assistant to IUP president Willis Pratt, went on to serve the university as vice president and briefly as interim president.

Wayne Hawxhurst had grown up on his family’s farm just outside Indiana and attended Keith School on campus. He graduated from Indiana High School, worked for a surveying crew in area coal mines, and served in the Navy during World War II before opening a plumbing and heating business in Indiana.

He relocated to Florida after earning his undergraduate degree from ISTC and taught art at Key West High School. He would return to Indiana during the summer months to work toward his master’s.

The library mural was painted as a class assignment, and the postmark date indicates when it was completed, Susan surmises. The Key West reference obviously pays homage to Wayne’s adopted hometown, where he became a prominent figure in the arts community, exhibiting his work in addition to teaching at the local high school and at Florida Keys Community College. He died in 2011.

Susan is thrilled the mural remains in the stairwell at Stabley after so many years. And McDevitt is thrilled that, as Wildman does in every episode of his television program, she found some answers to an intriguing mystery.

“I’m glad I know at least a little bit more,” McDevitt said. “I think that mural is so cool. It’s really appropriate for a library to have a monument like this to the ways that knowledge has been stored and shared over time.”