Graphic design major Theresa Cordier was enlisted to paint colorful, animal-centric murals for UAH’s Early Learning Center, which her daughter attended.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Paintings done by UAH alumna Theresa Cordier decorate the ELC’s walls.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Of all the animals that Theresa Cordier has painted to brighten up the walls of the Early Learning Center (ELC) on the campus of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), her favorite is the octopus. "I thought he was going to be easy, but he lied to me – he took me a week to paint!" laughs the Madison, Ala., native. "When you look really closely, octopuses are not one color. And the more I got into it, he went from orange to pink. It was just challenging, and so the way he turned out made me happy."

When she initially arrived at UAH, Cordier’s focus was not on painting murals but rather on completing her bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. But with her daughter enrolled at the ELC, which serves as a community outreach center for UAH’s College of Education, she frequently found herself distracted by the uninteresting décor that the Center had inherited from its previous tenants. "I noticed they had some…interesting murals in the library, and so I said, if you need help painting, let me know," she says. "And then I think I just kept bugging them about it!"

Eventually, Cordier was given the opportunity to paint the Center’s lobby windows for UAH’s homecoming celebration. "Since it was a superhero theme, I did a bunch of superhero horses on the windows," she says. "All the kids loved it." A few months later, when she was given permission to paint them again, she replaced the horses with well-known animated characters. "I had Rapunzel’s castle and the lanterns from ‘Tangled,’ as well as Bambi and Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh," she says. "The kids recognized the characters, and it was really awesome to hear them say, ‘Oh look, she’s painting again!’"

Cordier says that the octopus who inhabits the door to the ELC’s Ocean Sensory Room is her favorite.

Michael Mercier | UAH

By that time, Cordier had more than proven her skills as an artist – not to mention, far surpassed the volunteer hours required of ELC parents in the First Class Grant Classroom – and she was offered a position as a student worker at the Center. Her first assignment was to paint a mural for the ELC’s Ocean Sensory Room, a calming, interactive sea-themed space for students with and without special needs. "The first thing I painted was the dolphin, but then he was just there with nothing around him, staring into space," says Cordier with a laugh. "So I added the dolphins in the back, the manta rays, the jellyfish, and the turtle. I was like, this needs to look like an ocean!"

Once that was done, she moved on to the ELC’s largest room, which is divided between a cafeteria and a Sensory Gym; Cordier was tasked with painting the latter with a jungle theme. "It was a little intimidating because the wall is so big – I had to borrow my dad’s ladder to get to as high as I did," she says, adding that the two mirrors on the wall provided inspiration for the waterfall and river that serve as the mural’s backdrop. At the Center’s request, she also incorporated each classes’ animal mascot, to include a bear, bees, ladybugs, butterflies, caterpillars, frogs, turtles, an elephant, a fox, and owls – not, she admits, that these animals all technically live in the jungle. But any qualms she may have felt about the lack of realism were easily overcome by the students’ excitement at seeing their respective classes represented. "While I was working on it, the kids were like, ‘Ooh look!’ They loved it. So it was nice to hear it was appreciated."

Cordier’s undersea mural adds to the Ocean Sensory Room’s calming ambiance.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Certainly, the ELC has received a positive return on their investment since hiring Cordier. "Theresa has taken an idea and executed a vision into a reality for our children," says Deana Aumalis, who serves as the Center’s director. "They enjoy having their space, a fun and inviting area thanks to her artistic vision." But with Cordier an official alumna since graduating this past semester, her focus is now on finding a full-time job – ideally as an artist. "I have truly loved painting these murals, and I’d be more than happy to do it forever if I could," she says. "But as a single mom, I’m looking anywhere and everywhere for a graphic design position that will help pay the bills!"


UAH Department of Art, Art History, & Design