ArtWorks News

Arts and Sciences Unite: ArtWorks’ Thermo Fisher Mural

Severo Ochoa, Patricia Bath (Large Portrait), Har Gobind Khoran (smaller portrait), Percy Julian, Flossie Wong-Staal, Gertrude Elion. Photo by Linnea Gartin.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is the world’s leader in serving science, and the Cincinnati division in Reading reached out to ArtWorks to collaborate. 

What do we have in common? Love of the arts and celebrating diversity.

The company called on ArtWorks to create a mural at their facilities to celebrate their diverse history in the form of art. Linnea Gartin, ArtWorks’ director of community impact had the task of finding the perfect artist to complete the job. Twenty-five year-old local illustrator, Sherman Parnell, ended up being the perfect candidate.

“We knew Sherman had the talent and ambition to take on Thermo Fisher’s artistic vision,” Gartin said. “Upon our partners at Thermo Fisher’s first look at his portfolio they were ready to bring him onboard for their custom mural.”

Parnell has an impressive portfolio that includes bold, detailed illustrations and designs. He first came across ArtWorks when a  youth apprentice alumwho is a personal friend of hislet him know about teaching staff opportunities for summer 2020. The portfolio came in handy, and Parnell was recruited to work on the third phase of New Lines, an alleyway mural series in collaboration with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful. He worked on more than 10 murals over the course of 8 weeks with Youth Apprentices and left a positive impression with our staff.

Fast forward to fall 2020, Gartin knew exactly who to call to take on Thermo Fisher’s request. Parnell’s striking painting style aligned perfectly with their vision. Not only did he design their dreams, but led as a Teaching Artist, too. Our 2019 Biggie Award winner, Wesley Ericson, joined Parnell in the project execution as a Youth Apprentice in true ArtWorks fashion. 

“Our days consisted of a lot of enthusiastic conversations about painting alongside our work,” Ericson said. “Sherman offered me truly meaningful career advice. We’d listen to different podcasts about business and different forms of art. Our discussions have meant a lot to me.” 

The duo worked 5 days a week constructing themes of togetherness, diversity, equity, and inclusion, science, and sustainability with their paint brushes. But not without obstacles. The mural was originally intended to be painted directly on a wall at the facility. After encountering issues with paint which interrupted the saturation, the group had to pivot and create the images on aluminum panels indoors. Then the challenge became transferring the art to 9 different panels, spanning 7 feet tall and 36 feet wide. It took lots of paint, a projector, and perseverance to prevail.

Thermo Fisher’s vision was to include women and minority groups not frequently represented. The mural includes images of Patricia Bath, Gertrude Elion, Percy Julian, Har Gobind Khoran, Severo Ochoa and Flossie Wong-Staal. This impressive group represents research on cancer, DNA, organ transplants and AIDS. Its title is Diversity in Science.

Upon looking at the mural, you’ll see these 6 figures’ skin tones truly pop. Parnell was tested with some of the images which suffered from poor coloration. “It was a fun challenge to turn these muted-colored photos into lively, large-scale portraits with vibrant color,” Parnell said, who became ArtWorks’ creative project manager during the course of the mural. “The composition of this mural was fundamentally upheld because of the colors. There was a lot of time spent mixing paints and creating different lighting scenarios to achieve this while maintaining the historical figure’s overall likeness.” 

This mural which is a part of ArtWorks’ 2021 Season of Stronger Together was installed in March. By the end of the project, Parnell was hired on ArtWorks’ permanent staff as a manager of creative projects.

“I wanted to look out for the first available opportunity at ArtWorks after my first few months of working with them as a seasonal employee,” Parnell said. “Since being hired, I’ve loved the people I get to work with and especially seeing the youth apprentices grow into confident artists. This work changes all of us.” 

About ArtWorks

ArtWorks is an award-winning Greater Cincinnati nonprofit that transforms people and places through investments in creativity. The organization collaborates with community organizations and residents, businesses, governments, foundations and nonprofits to build creative works of art that bolster the region’s global reputation as an arts destination. ArtWorks employs professional artists who inspire and mentor diverse teams of youth, ages 14-21, helping them build 21st century career-readiness skills. These teams have completed more than 13,800 public and private art projects in its 25 years, including more than 200 permanent outdoor murals.