Ceiling fresco of the University of St. Thomas Terrence Murphy Hall

Frescoes of St. Thomas

When the University of St. Thomas commissioned Mark Balma to decorate the Founder's Hall, it made a commitment to continuing the tradition of making public spaces a forum for the expression of ideas. The frescoes of St. Thomas are an open classroom where students can learn about how old ideas can take on new light; and how these ideas will be carried on for generations by an ancient art form.

The atrium ceiling is one of the largest frescoes in the United States. The 17 by 112-foot work is a focal point in the building's Hall of Founders. Here artist Mark Balma painted a contemporary, allegorical articulation of seven virtues discussed by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae (Summary of Theology) - faith, justice, prudence, hope, temperance, fortitude and charity. On the 12 supporting pillars are fresco portraits of 12 donors (or their designees) to the Minneapolis campus.

Visit the Frescoes

Visit the Frescoes of St. Thomas at our downtown Minneapolis campus in Terrence Murphy Hall at 1000 LaSalle Avenue.

The Hall of Founders is open:

Monday - Thursday 7:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 7:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

The Seven Virtues

Although the concept of seven virtues is associated with Christianity, they actually predate it by several centuries. Most credit the philosopher Plato with listing a few of them. Theologians and theorists may define the virtues differently and they have undergone some changes.

Pillar Portraits

Mark Balma, the artist who painted fresco depictions of the seven virtues on the atrium ceiling of St. Thomas' Terrence Murphy Hall, also painted the pillar frescoes of the Minneapolis campus' founders or those they designated.

Water Birds of the Frescoes

Thanks go to Louise Balma for her research into and selection of the birds used in the fresco. The birds represent those species found from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico. Each relies on the Mississippi River for sustenance either year-round or as part of their migration.

Mark Balma

Mark Balma distinctly remembers wanting to be an artist from the age of 5 and loved to draw full scale figures of the saints for the religious study course in his Catholic grade school. At 16, Balma enrolled as the youngest student at the specialized art school, Atelier Lack. After several years of studio training with Twin Cities painter Richard Lack, he received two Elizabeth Greensheild grants to support himself and pay tuition.

Balma moved to Italy to study the works of Pietro Annigoni, then considered the world's master fresco painter. At 24, in 1981, Mark Balma had enough work assembled to have a one man exhibition in Milan. The show was a success, but the next two years were difficult ones.

By day he fulfilled portrait commissions by day and studied Italian by night.

In 1983 he moved to London and stayed for two years exhibiting again and fulfilling more portrait commissions. He returned in 1984 to fulfill a commission for St. Mary's College in Winona, MN to embarked on his first major fresco project of three murals for the Performing Arts Center there.

In 1988 he painted a fresco for Huber Funeral Chapel in Excelsior, Minnesota.

In the fall of 1995 he began two fresco paintings in the historic Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Balma also paints oil portraits. He has recently completed portraits of Gen. Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, James Baker, Gen. Brent Scowcraft and former President George Bush.