Courthouse adds to history

A dedication ceremony on Dec. 18, 2011 revealed the new Federal Building and United States Courthouse located in Tuscaloosa. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby were in attendance, as well as various other officials.

According to an article in The Tuscaloosa News, Senator Shelby had been working for 10 years to appropriate funds for a revitalization project for Tuscaloosa that included the courthouse. The new building sits on a 4.75 acre piece of land on University Boulevard and covers over 127,000 square feet and cost $47.8 million.

"As I stand here in front of this stunning new courthouse, I cannot help but think of the cases and controversies that will someday be heard and decided within the walls of this edifice," Thomas said at the dedication ceremony. "Though the art and architecture are to be greatly admired, what happens here in the years to come will define and give real meaning to this courthouse."

In the atrium of the courthouse, there are 16 14-by-9 feet paintings. The artist, Caleb O’Connor, was approached about taking on the job three years ago. He moved to Tuscaloosa to begin working on the project.

O’Connor was asked to create a series of historical murals that depicted the city’s – and country’s – history. It took O’Connor, along with University professors and local historians, over a year to research the prospective events to be displayed in each of the paintings.

"I was given general directions about how to carry out the project, but in the end, it is the artist's job to depict the idea,” O'Connor said. “I wanted to paint real people that live here in Tuscaloosa."

Once the research was completed, the artist presented 25 paintings to a board comprised of government officials and local leaders. The collection was then narrowed down to 18 paintings. O’Connor then created more detailed images and re-presented the paintings to the same board.

The images were then narrowed to 16 paintings to be displayed in a timeline fashion representing various events over time, including an image to represent the current period.    However, since the tornado occurred after the designs were chosen, O’Connor decided to remove the image selected to represent the current period and replace it with a painting depicting the events of April 27.

O’Connor said he wouldn’t have painted the tornado had people not acted the way they did and that he always believed that tragedy brings out the best in people, as in this particular case.

The painting of the natural disaster housed many stories, one of which featured a 12-year-old boy who rescued an elderly woman from the nursing home where she lived.

He created the first 14 paintings in the Blount Undergraduate Initiative building on the University’s campus and is still working to finish the last two paintings while they are on display in the courthouse.

O’Connor also said that his views of the South have changed since living here and that he learned a great deal from this project.

“The project grew me as an individual, and I have gained a respect for the South and the people here,” he said.

He also said that he would like to express gratitude to the University for allowing the use of a studio.

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