Disappearing dinos

Blacklight mural to feature at new Cayuga Medical Center facility

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When you first enter the phlebotomy room at the to be completed Cayuga Medical Center facility in Community Corners, it looks like any other medical room. White walls, counter and sink, plain cabinets. But with the flick of a switch you’re sent back millions of years to the Cretaceous Period.
This is not the first project that Ithaca mural artist Mary Beth Ihnken has done with CMC, nor is it the first blacklight mural she’s done with the health care organization. It’s her third.


Ihnken wanted all the dinosaurs to be native to North America so she teamed up with the experts from the Paleontological Research Institute (PRI) to create the most accurate representations of the dinosaurs featured in the mural.


“When people think dinosaurs, a tyrannosaurus rex, that’s the first thing, and then if not that, the velociraptor,” Ihnken said. “But the whole idea of this room is to be comforting, not scary.”


Initially, Ihnken wanted to paint dinosaurs that once wandered what is now the Finger Lakes, but generally they were small and not terribly exciting. So, with help from PRI, she landed on Maiasauras and Troodon dinosaurs. Ihnken likes the Maiasauras dinosaurs in part because they would nurture their young from egg to juveniles, a comforting aspect for the hospital room. In the background, soaring the skies, are a few Pteranodon’s, which are technically flying reptiles, not dinosaurs.


Ihnken already had a connection to PRI before starting the blacklight mural. Her work can be found on the walls of the Institute. So, when it came to painting dinosaurs she knew just who to consult with.


“Working with PRI is great,” she said. “I love doing the research part of a project, too. People think, ‘Oh you just paint.’ I’m like, ‘No, there’s actually a lot more than that.’”


While others may have been content to just put in some cool looking dinosaurs, Ihnken wanted to reach further and make the mural more than that. Dinosaurs from other continents were quickly ruled out. It’s local dinos or bust, for this piece of art. Learning something new during a project is just one of the upsides to her job.


She wants the room to make patients feel comfortable, not overwhelmed. The details she’s added (an erupting volcano, a nest of eggs, Pteranodons dotted across the sky) keep the eye moving. There’s something fun to discover on each wall.


Painting a blacklight mural is different from painting using oils or acrylics. The blacklight paint doesn’t mix normally and is extremely transparent. Once on the walls, without the special blacklight on, it blends right into the white.
But it’s not just the actual paint that’s different. Ihnken’s usual technique has to be reversed. Instead of starting with the background, she has to start from the front. The darkest parts of the mural are actually just areas that have no paint.


“In order to show the trunks, I had to paint around trunks,” she said.
Thankfully, there’s also a paint that can act like an eraser for any paint that falls where it shouldn’t.


Blacklight murals aren’t something Ihnken said she would normally get into until the hospital offered her the opportunity. She found a paint company out of California that had just what she needed, who also helped connect her to other artists with experience using the blacklight paint. She experimented a bit with a small amount of the very expensive paint before diving into a mural.
While creating a mockup of the mural, Ihnken had to keep in mind how the layout of the room would fit into the art. The door, the phone, the desk, and even the blacklights themselves were all incorporated into the design. A relatively empty corner of the room will be for the patient’s chair, giving them an easy view of all the best dinosaurs.


The idea to create blacklight murals in the hospital rooms was inspired by a workshop that CMC’s Deborah Mansfield attended several years ago. She brought the idea back to Ithaca and has seen the creation of three blacklight murals since.


While she likely wouldn’t continue to use blacklight paint in her own work, Ihnken said she will be doing some commissioned work for a client using it.
CMC will be holding a public open house for the new Community Corners facility on April 30 where the community can come have the prehistoric experience themselves.

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