"This is our 'make it work' moment," someone shouted, cheering on their housemates-turned-artists who were hurrying to put the finishing touches on their canvas.
The clock struck 10:30 p.m. in the crowded theater of the University Church last Thursday, marking the end of the Homecoming Banner Competition painting session. Organized by the Student Alumni Committee, this annual homecoming week competition is a popular event that challenges UChicago students to reveal their artistic sides and school spirit. After a frenzied evening of painting featuring more than 20 groups of students from residential houses and RSOs, the completed banners serve as decorations for the Homecoming Block Party by Stagg Field. There, judges assess the banners by merits of spirit, creativity, and aesthetic, awarding the top three with cash prizes.
With half an hour remaining in the painting session, a student across the room with a sponge brush in each hand and speckled paint up to her elbows called for more red and blue. Painters balanced precariously over their colorful creations, hastening their brush strokes as the clock ticked down. The competing teams perfected color, smoothed lines, and saturated their banners corner-to-corner up to the very last minute.
Three hours of painting yielded a diverse array of designs. Many houses take inspiration from their house crests or mascots, which include everything from Dodd-Mead's ornamental keys to Behar House's charming pug. Others turn to iconic campus architecture, with different banners depicting the shining dome of Mansueto, the stony walls of Regenstein Library, or the bright colors of Max Palevsky Residence Hall. Between blazing phoenixes and plenty of maroon, many groups found space to include John Boyer, the beloved Dean of the College, in their designs.
Competition was fierce among this year’s banners. For many students, this is a highly anticipated event and some groups spend whole days on their artistic vision. Second-year Claire Kokontis of Wallace House teamed up with a group of skilled artists to create a masterful depiction of Hull Gate.
Photo courtesy of Claire Kokontis.
“We figured we could set our banner apart by trying to make it look like a painting,” she said. “We wanted to highlight things we think are unique about UChicago, and one of the big things for us is the beautiful campus.”
Their autumnal work of art earned them third place in the competition.
“We were constantly communicating with each other throughout the painting process,” Kokontis said, citing their teamwork and preparedness as the keys to their success. “We took a lot of breaks to stand back and make sure that the painting looked like one cohesive scene, and not like multiple people with different painting styles working on one painting.”
Photo courtesy of Grace Su.
Other teams opted for different strategies. Third-year Grace Su and her Hitchcock House teammates arrived at the competition with no plan. Su said they quickly discussed their inspiration when they arrived: “We wanted to do something funny that also demonstrated school pride. Our design was essentially Dean Boyer on a Phoenix in the ‘George Washington Crossing the Delaware’ pose.” After this hurried planning session, Su and first-year housemate Laura Sieh got to work and finished their highly spirited piece just in the knick of time.
“We honestly did not think that we would place in the competition, but I am so glad that we participated,” Su said. “It was an amazing bonding experience. We are so happy to be able to share our art with our house!”
Inspired by their resident heads’ Serbian heritage, the first place design by Halperin House featured a double-headed phoenix in the style of a Serbian crest. Emblazoned on a shield in the center is the Chicago flag, completing the bold and prideful look of this banner.
Halperin first-year Siena Fite was excited to take part in this event, a longtime tradition for her house. “All the banners from previous years hang in our lounge,” she said. “That's where this year's banner will go too, and I'm hoping we will use the prize money to take a fun trip—maybe an art-related one!”
Year after year, UChicago students return to this competition to unleash (or unearth) their artistic talent, making their mark with a fittingly diverse display of school pride.