Wheaton magazine

Volume 21 // Issue 2
Wheaton magazine // Spring 2018
Art Feature
photo by gabi satola


The Luminous One

Barrows Auditorium, the Billy Graham Center

Notoriously uninspiring, the Barrows Auditorium entrance to the Billy Graham Center (BGC) was in desperate need of an update that would welcome students and visitors into the graduate school and BGC. This was the main goal behind commissioning the massive, 1500-pound, Byzantine-inspired mosaic that now hangs in the foyer just beyond the Barrows entrance: to improve the aesthetics of the space and to inspire the vision of the graduate school and the Billy Graham Center.

It has become a symbol of welcome to the droves of visitors, students, faculty, and staff who walk through Barrows Auditorium entrance. 

Designed, developed, and built by students and faculty across campus over the course of two years, The Luminous One mosaic is a truly communal and liberal arts project. Commissioned by the President’s Art Commission, the mosaic depicts the story of the woman at the well as told in the fourth chapter of the Gospel According to John. It also encapsulates the mission of the Billy Graham Center and the graduate school which find their home in BGC. 

“It's a story in which Jesus is sharing the gospel … and the woman he shares with then immediately becomes an evangelist and invites her entire community to come and receive the living water of Jesus Christ.”
Dr. Philip G. Ryken '88, president.

In Orthodox tradition the Samaritan woman’s name is Photini, meaning “the one who brings light” or “the brilliant one,” and she gives the mosaic its name. Just as Jesus welcomed Photini, the mosaic serves as a hospitable welcome to all who visit the community of Wheaton College. The story and artwork are rooted in biblical and early church imagery but are reimagined into a contemporary context. The Luminous One bears a message that is relevant today and viewers are invited to find greeting, beauty, and joy in it. 

“The four seasons are represented in the piece … It’s the fullness of the universe as represented by this encounter when Jesus says ‘I am he, the one.’”
Leah Samuelson, associate lecturer of art

The setting of the piece is not simply an artistic rendering of the ancient near-eastern contexts in which our Savior walked. It is an intentional combination of symbols and images that speak not only out of Jesus’ encounter with Photini but to a rich historical and geographical audience. Viewers may notice the goose, wheat fields, and the characteristically Wheaton buildings that encroach upon the biblical scene.

It is almost as if Jesus is offering Photini living water in the very town in which we live. We are invited into the scene.

This invitation is also represented by the halos surrounding the heads of Jesus and Photini and the verses from John 4 that are hidden among the tiles. Traditionally, a circle halo means that the saint being portrayed has passed on to glory and a square halo means that the saint is still living. Viewers are called to identify themselves with the “living” Photini before them to receive the living water offered by Jesus. 

The two verses included in the mosaic read “and look on the fields, they are ripe for harvest,” and “we have heard for ourselves, this is true.” Some of these words are backward, following in a tradition that shows something is spiritual and cannot be heard with normal ears. These backward words are readable by the people in the piece as if they are reading the scripture along with the viewer.

Through these careful and thoughtful symbols of place, identity, and image The Luminous One calls us to look with Photini to Jesus who looks out to us.



63,000 Tesserae of Glass, Ceramic, and Stone

7.5' x 15'


Instructor: Leah Samuelson, Associate Lecturer of Art

Designer: Jeremy Botts, Associate Professor of Art

Advisor: Sue Coombs, Principal at the Chicago Mosaic School

Commissioned by the President’s Art Commission

Collaborators: the President’s Art Commission, the Arts Division, the Billy Graham Center, the Graduate School, the Geology Department, the Bible and Theology Department, and individual faculty who donated materials, time, and expertise. 

Students, auditors, and volunteers who worked on the mosaic:

John Mark Daniel

Amanda Laky

Mitchel McRay

Hannah Frankl

Emily Langan

Tessa Miller

Diane Greenberg

Sienna Laya

Elena Spafford 

Kasia Hiltibran

Joy Lee

Sam Stevenson

Grace Holmen

Josh Mangis

Greta Swanson

Sarah Kaczka

Erin McCord

Claire Waterman

Jill Kuhlman

Charis McIntyre