Unlimited Possibilities Mural

Mural, framed by deep blue curtains, scenes of students, in classrooms and doing research

Detail - Woman kneeling outdoors, holding plant

Detail - Woman in lab, holding book

Detail - two men, one seeing x-ray of hand, other reading papers from filing cabinet

Detail - spring wildflowers, trillium and shooting star

Detail - scroll with names of student painters

The mural in the upper central lobby of the Parks Library celebrates the founding of Iowa State University and its intended future as a premier land-grant university. Designed by native Iowa mural artist Doug Shelton, it was created in the same tradition as the renowned Grant Wood murals which adorn the stairwell and lower lobby of the Parks Library building, in that all utilized the talents of trained student apprentices under the general supervision of a master designer in the painting process. Nine Iowa State University students from the Department of Art and Design--Robert Atwell, Dean Biechler, Nikki Grote, Gwen Kaye, Qimin Liu, Justin Lorenzen, Kandice Rappe, Sandra Spilker, and Jim Wilcox--who were supervised by faculty members and team artists, Donna Friedman and Brenda Jones, worked with artist Doug Shelton in the completion of this mural. Painted in a temporary mural studio at the University Museum from August through November 1996, the 22 x 20 foot mural was installed in the library in January 1998. The mural was formally dedicated on Founders Day, March 22, 1998, the 140th anniversary of Iowa State University.


The idea for a new mural in Parks Library came during Iowa's Sesquicentennial year in 1996. University administrators were looking for a way to commemorate this event in Iowa history and the founding of Iowa State. Lynette Pohlman, director of University Museums, suggested that they commission a mural to continue the tradition begun by Grant Wood, who designed murals for the Library during the Depression. The concept was accepted, and soon a committee was appointed, representing the Library, ISU faculty, students and University Museums. The members selected Doug Shelton to translate their vision into a tangible work of art.

The following concepts were indicated for exploration in the mural:

  • university-wide interrelationships and the student experience
  • creating an intellectually and culturally stimulating campus environment
  • relationship of Iowa State's history to its future
  • Iowa State's educational system in relation to business and industry
  • place of Iowa and Iowa State within the global community as it relates to technology and technology transfer
  • environmental stewardship, enhancement of human resources and qualities of life including individual and family


Doug Shelton met with ISU staff and collected images of campus in spring 1996. Five months later, he returned with a plan on paper and then spent the latter part of the year creating the mural. The nine student assistants, selected for their artistic abilities, worked in shifts under the supervision of the two faculty members. As in the creation of the Grant Wood murals of six decades earlier, a key challenge was the achievement of a unified style by all artists. The Brunnier Art Museum served as a studio during the three-month period of its creation. Artists kept a daily journal of their work on the project from August 28 to November 20, 1996, recording their own feelings and reactions as well as visitors' comments. Installation of the three sections of the mural was done by Des Moines-based Colors, Inc. with the assistance of the artist.

Following the process used in creating the Grant Wood murals, intensive research was done to ensure accuracy of flora, fauna, and other objects represented. Illustrations from textbooks, photographs, and live plants were all utilized. Symbols of all constituent colleges of the university were included. With the exception of the self-portrait of Doug Shelton at the filing cabinet, figures in the mural represent composites of several people rather than being portraits of specific individuals. A number of students posed, including visitors to the studio and Cyclone athletes. Referencing "Cyclone Country," 32 cyclones were incorporated in the mural.

Artist's comments