New mural enhances outdoor area of psychiatric unit

Written by Natalie Betz

A patio offering fresh air and sunshine for patients in the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics adult psychiatric inpatient unit had just one drawback: a large, dull, concrete wall disrupting the scene. To beautify the space, rehab therapists Jon Mitchell and Sara Hefel suggested covering the wall with a mural.

“A Fresh New Morning” by Tom Torluemke

Steve Blanchard, administrator for the Department of Psychiatry, pitched the idea to Bruce Scherting, director of Project Art at UI Hospital & Clinics, who—along with Volunteer Services—helped fund the project and find an artist to create the work.

Torluemke works on the mural

“We knew we wanted the mural to be calming, while providing an opportunity for exploration and a variety of images in the design,” Scherting says. “We wanted to ensure it was a subject for conversation.”

A grant request to fully fund the mural was submitted to Volunteer Services in the Fall of 2017. The Departments of Psychiatry and Rehab Therapies gratefully acknowledge the support of Volunteer Services in making development of the mural a reality. Scherting joined the Steering Committee, who evaluated various artists and invited artists with mural experience to submit concepts of a mural for the wall space. Scherting also provided liaison support to the artist and his staff throughout the design and installation process.

The finished mural, “A Fresh New Morning,” depicts a scene of nature with a focus on native Iowa species of plants and animals. Artist Tom Torluemke and assistant Billy Pozzo spent nearly two weeks working 12-hour days until the mural, 8 feet high and 48 feet wide, was completed.

The job presented other challenges besides long days. Torluemke first created a sketch of the mural on paper. On the empty wall they drew a grid to guide them while transferring the design to the wall. But when it came time to apply paint, early morning sunlight reflections from multiple directions off of walls of glass windows made it impossible to see the grid and outlines of plant and animals on the wall. For several hours each morning, they had to put up a board to block the sun, so they could continue their work.

Torluemke has over 20 public art commissions in the Midwest. He has worked as an artist for over 30 years, specializing in painting, watercolor, drawing, collage, and sculpture. See more of his work at

The mural contains enough visual complexity to hold a viewer’s attention over time, without being too aggressively eye catching, Scherting explains.

“We were thinking in terms of ‘Big Biota,’ the natural world, plants and animals,” Scherting says. “We wanted the space to be more inviting. It breaks up the architecture, so it softens the space, especially with the real plants scattered around the area. It helps create a calm atmosphere by promoting reflection and rejuvenation.”

Here’s the view prior to the mural:

The patio wall before the mural was painted

Billy Pozzo (left) and Tom Torluemke (right) painting


  1. As a visual artist, I am very pleased to see this and find it very beautiful and serene. I painted a wall mural in my church when the basement of the historic wing was renovated to create a beautiful nursery. I hope to see more such visual art.

  2. Really cool! Good idea Jon and Sara, and thanks to Steve and Bruce for taking action to make it happen!

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