Haag Hall Mural Inspires Fascinating Research, Mentorship Opportunity

Dynamic Duo explores historic art fixture in the heart of UMKC campus
Student Victoria Dominguez and Prof. Viviana Grieco study the Luis Quintanilla murals in Haag Hall

The heart of UMKC is our campus community. With lots of research opportunities, it’s easy to develop mentorship teams. And these rich relationships—our Dynamic Duos—are some of our best success stories.

UMKC senior Victoria Dominguez is roughly three months away from her college graduation. But instead of coasting to the finish line, she’s knee deep in a research project that will have lasting impact at UMKC.

“The murals in Haag Hall are really fascinating and not a lot of students I’ve talked to are aware that they’re here on campus,” Dominguez explained.

The mural, located on the second floor of Haag Hall, was painted by Spanish artist Luis Quintanilla in 1941. Quintanilla came to the forerunner of UMKC, the University of Kansas City (UKC) in 1940 to serve as its first artist-in-residence at the invitation of UKC President Clarence Decker.

“Part of my research focuses on how Dr. Decker broadened the academic scope of the university by bringing in displaced scholars like Quintanilla,” said Dominguez.

There’s much more historical significance to these paintings than a casual glance reveals. Viviana Grieco, PhD., professor of History, had worked with Dominguez on a separate research project, and presented her with the opportunity to do an independent research project related to the murals. Dominguez was immediately intrigued, and the mentor relationship deepened.

Victoria Dominguez

“To me as a historian, the most interesting part is that President Decker was able to position this young and unknown university at the level of more prominent universities that were applying for aid through the Rockefeller Foundation, to bring in displaced scholars and scientists. This was during the depression and the university was only five years old at the time, so it was very impressive to get an artist of that caliber here. It was a huge win that deserves recognition,” said Grieco.

The mural was painted to reflect the theme, “Don Quixote in the Modern World.” It features many people and animals, but up until now, the identities of those depicted in the mural remain unknown.

Victoria says she’s spent hours combing through various sources, with the help of Grieco, in hopes of identifying the people in the mural. She’s used university archives, old yearbooks, viewed a number of special collections, consulted the Rockefeller Foundation archives and the New York Public library to get information.

“The mural includes illustrations of Dr. Decker and his wife, Luis Quintanilla and his whole family, Alexander Cappon who was part of the UKC English Department. It features staff members, professors and students. They’re all depicted in different images across the murals,” Dominguez explained.

Dominguez says she loves the spark that comes with each new identification and deeply appreciates the guidance and mentorship she’s received from Grieco throughout this process.

“Not only is Dr. Grieco inspiring, but she pushes me to my full potential. I don’t think I would have done any of this research work if it wasn’t for her. She has helped push me past my comfort zone and challenged me to think more deeply about topics. This research opportunity has really enhanced my university experience,” said Dominguez.

Grieco has been equally inspired by the fascinating project.

“We’re having fun. When we discover something new or a new detail that fits into the bigger picture of our research, we get excited. I enjoy getting immersed into her project and helping guide her.”

The pair has built a strong bond through working together on this project and they’ve noticed a few similarities between their work and the work of the muralist they’re studying.

Professor Viviana Grieco
Viviana Grieco, Ph.D.

“Our mentor/mentee experience parallels that of Quintanilla and UKC’s students. Despite not speaking fluent, English Quintanilla was able to connect with the students on campus and work with them as subjects for his mural. Still today it remains true that these unique mentorship and student engagement opportunities can help students take the most out of their university experience,” said Grieco.

Dominguez urges anyone considering research to take a chance and connect with a mentor who can serve as your guide.

“It’s one of the best experiences and opportunities I’ve had during my time here at UMKC. If you are offered a research opportunity, just take it because it’s vastly different from other coursework and research is a unique opportunity that could help you find passion and figure out what you want to do after college.”

She plans to present her research findings during Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Jefferson City this spring. Dominguez hopes this project brings renewed attention and respect to this campus gem.

“The interest in these murals and the artist has faded and I really hope my research helps shed more light on both, because the artist’s work is a huge part of our university and I think a lot of students should know more about it.”

Victoria and Viviana in the checkered floor lobby surrounded by the murals