Colleen Phelon Hall, B'91
Alumna creates custom murals for children
July 28, 2011
Spider in the Spotlight is sponsored by the University of Richmond Alumni Association.
The first Oldham Scholar to graduate with degrees in both business administration and studio art, Colleen Phelon married fellow Spider Jeffery Hall, '94, and embarked on a career as a muralist and children's artist whose award-winning work can be seen at www.colleenhall.com.
How do you describe what you do?
I am a professional mural artist, focusing for the last 16 years on doing custom murals for children in both residential and commercial settings. I have the reproduction end of the business—which is my business degree at work—where we take the work, digitally capture it, then reproduce it on printable canvas so that it looks like a painting.
What made your time at Richmond unique?
I was very, very fortunate to be awarded the Oldham Scholarship. My dad was a teacher. I was the third child. They put the other two through college, and when I received the scholarship, my father was able to say, "OK. I'm putting in my retirement papers after 38 years of public school teaching." So Richmond has a very special place in my heart.
Is there one important lesson you came away with?
Richmond gave me this incredibly broad base of education. I remember one year I had sculpture followed by finance, and so I would literally run—with my hands all in clay and messy wearing my sculpture clothes, and running across campus to get to finance, where it would be the total opposite side of my brain. It's using both sides of the brain to be able to see things both as an artist and also from a business perspective.
So using both sides of your brain, what advice would you give to current Richmond students?
Learn to be flexible in the path you set for yourself. After graduating, I worked for a great advertising agency, but, as happens, I got laid off with a bunch of other newbie’s. All of a sudden it was, "Whoa! Plan A did not turn out the way I thought!” But different situations came along. The door closed and a window opened. Being flexible, and being open to new paths, is incredibly important.
What is your favorite thing to do, when you're not working?
I paint all the time, so actually photography has become something I enjoy. It's very immediate. I love gardens. I love flowers. Often, in my mind, there are these paintings I'd like to do someday based upon these photographs. I can't sit down and do that painting now, so I have thousands and thousands of pictures [laughs]. They're paintings-in-waiting.
Visual arts and music so often go together—is there a favorite song on your iPod?
Anything by Dave Matthews like Rapunzel. But of late I've been opening myself up to some newer stuff like Katy Perry, that Firework song. I do enjoy music that's kind of upbeat, but mostly, I appreciate variety.
Is there someone—living or dead—you'd like to meet?
Eleanor Roosevelt. She was such a strong woman. She lived through incredible amounts of history and she did so much in so many different aspects. I appreciate that so much of it was contrary to the roles of women at the time. She was just a woman ahead of her time.
What's your favorite place?
I love Italy, in particular Positano—I got to go there for my 40th birthday. It's a city on the Amalfi coast in the southwest of Italy. It's a beautiful place—just gorgeous.
Is there a work of art that seeing once was not enough?
I would say the Michelangelo statues—the David is amazing but the Prisoners [Michelangelo’s unfinished statues] are what I've always found fascinating. I love the contrast of seeing the rough phase of his sculpture and where he was going with it. I think it really shows his idea of releasing the figure from the cell of stone.
What does "Spider pride" mean to you?
I'm very proud of the University. It gave me a lot of opportunities. Probably the best part about the school is the people. I loved the fact it has small classes and I actually knew my professors. In that way I had a really unique education versus a lot of people who went to bigger schools.
Do you remember a favorite professor?
One who stood out in my mind was Dr. David Robbins. There's a chair named for him at the business school now. He was just incredible—not only really fun but at the same time he really challenged us.
Who's the Richmond Spider you'd like to find yourself on a desert isle with?
Obviously I have to put my husband at the top of the list—Jeffery Hall, '94. He majored in education and art and today he's the fine arts chair at Maggie Walker Governance School in Richmond. We have two artists—ah, two kids rather—and we're all creative types. Not one of us seems to have a good organizational, accounting bone in our body. So unfortunately that makes me, with the business degree, in charge of taxes, which is ironic because it was one of those things that was definitely not my thing in business school! [laughs]