Irwin Berman

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How many know that the
original U.Va. mascot was a dog

Before the Cavalier, the University of Virginia's official mascot was "Seal," a googly-eyed canine with a shiny ebony coat who rose to infamy during a football game when he relieved himself on the megaphone of one of the opposing team's cheerleaders. A fixture at the University during the 1940s and '50s, and buried on Campus in 1953, The Great Seal's memory has now been eclipsed by the ubiquitous sword-bearing Cavalier.

Coming to the rescue of Seal's long-forgotten legacy, three University graduates and an Art Department Professor have "teamed up" in the production of a lively animated short film speculating on aspects of The Great Seal's “afterlife”, ending with a message of lasting value for those who aspire to greatness and virtue in our complex world.

The "lead dog" in this project is Irwin Berman, a U.Va. Med School graduate cum artist, whose sculptural works will be showing at the University of Virginia Art Museum, opening May 2. Under the banner title, Sedentary Pleasures/Uncommon Stools, Berman's work focuses, in his own words, upon "seating as a metaphor for the human condition". Concurrent with the Museum exhibit, Les Yeux du Monde Gallery will feature his cast aluminum and Lucite edition works, plus—you guessed it—The Great Seal Trophy Stool, emblazoned with orange and blue faux doggie droppings that might have been from the Great Seal himself.

The Great Seal Animation wouldn't have happened without University Arts Professor Bill Bennett introducing Berman to Michael Wartella, U.Va. Studio Art alum, currently a New York City-based cartoonist whom The New York Times recognized as a pioneer of web-based animation. Having produced his first weekly newspaper comic strip at the age of ten, Wartella was tapped in 2007 to create weekly editorial cartoons for The Village Voice. Following Berman's surrealistic story line, Wartella brought Seal to life in ways that will energize students and younger alums, and make older Alumni well up with pride.

After hours of visual tweaking between Berman and Wartella, Michael enlisted the musical scoring of U.Va. Composition and Computer music alum Sam Retzer, a Los Angeles-based composer who has created music for MTV, the Sundance Channel, Pontiac, and Toyota, and scored the hit feature film Stomp The Yard. Incorporating elements of Philip Glass, halftime chants and The Good Old Song, Retzer's score provided the glue for the animation, if not the icing on Berman and Wartella's gravesite mound of Blue and Orange doggie Droppings, aka The Great Seal Trophy Stool.

The Original Great Seal Trophy stool was conceived in the surrealist spirit, addressing conflicting perceptions of beauty vs repulsion. As shown in Les Yeux du Monde Gallery, the stool incorporates the orange and the blue upon an antique milking stool. The stool will be sold in a silent auction at the Gallery, including five autographed DVDs, proceeds to benefit the University of Virginia Art Museum and Art Department. The auction will close on June 14, at the end of the Museum exhibit with a champagne presentation, possibly at the Great Seal’s Gravesite. In the interim, Bill Bennett hopes to show The Great Seal at an outdoor venue during Alumni week.

The Great Seal DVDs will be available free of charge at Les Yeux du Monde Gallery beginning May 2. All that is required is to leave a $100 donation made out to the University of Virginia Art Museum / Art Department. A good cause; a great mission; wonderful memories; an enduring message. Surely a dreamscape worth catching.


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