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State College, Pennsylvania

Willard Mural

No one knows who painted this mysterious mural in a Penn State basement. 

Underneath a passage of one of the oldest and most frequented buildings on Penn State’s main campus, a mysterious work of art awaits those with enough knowledge and free time to find it.

Under the front lawn of the Willard Building there is a maintenance tunnel that leads to a janitor’s storage space. As one might expect, there is an electrical transformer box and a large heating system vent down there, with a couple of window sills and wells from old and mostly disused classrooms. A metal grate covers the top of the passage. However, there is more to see here.

Running the entire length and height of the alcove’s outward wall (approximately 20 feet by 8 feet) is a long mural, painted by an unknown artist on an unknown date. The mural’s orange, viridian, and blue hues are strongly reminiscent of those of southwestern Native American art (the Pueblo and Navajo, mainly), while its banners of vegetation and simplistic stars call to mind another mysterious artifact: the Voynich Manuscript

There isn’t any artist’s signature or dedication date on the painting; the only part which bears any writing is one panel approximately in the center of the wall. Underneath an eight-fold leaf pattern with a differently colored circle at the cardinal points, this key is written:

To The West — INTROSPECTION

To The North — WISDOM

To The East — ILLUMINATION

To The South — INNOCENCE And TRUTH

Once again, the meaning of this inscription, beyond interpreting or expounding upon the design, is unknown. Some speculate this is either guerrilla art or the remnant of a mural project by a painting class. Whatever the case, this artwork is worth seeing if you have a few minutes and aren’t afraid of a bit of litter. 

Know Before You Go

The mural can be accessed by a exterior set of stairs by the side of Willard that faces the Steidle Building. The stairs and ground are slippery during wet and cold weather (a.k.a. three-quarters of the main Penn State sessions), so be careful.Also, be careful around the electrical transformer by the window; its panel has been marked "Ouch!" by a helpful passerby.

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