Alumni Spotlight: Pamela Bliss
Pamela Bliss, BA’98, has organized a county-wide Festival of Murals contest that is inspiring the community to create and appreciate art.
The Festival of Murals, a series of art, educational and community activities, includes a juried art competition of 10 murals placed on exterior walls all throughout Wayne County, Indiana.
Bliss, a fine arts adjunct instructor at IU East, has taught students mural painting and history, studio ceramics and studio painting and drawing. As an IU East student, Bliss was commissioned to paint several murals around the city including the corner of South Ninth and South A streets, at the entrance to Paulee’s Restaurant and on the Bartel Building which celebrates Richmond’s jazz heritage. She has several paintings and murals around the city depicting historical residents and landmarks.
The experience she has gained is now being passed on to her students Donna Wood, a senior general studies major with a concentration in sociology; Angie Appleberry, a junior fine arts major, both from Richmond, Ind.; and Eugena Monroe, a senior general studies major with a concentration in art and computer graphics from Brookville, Ind. All three were enrolled in Bliss’s summer course on mural painting.
This was the students’ first mural.
They were handed the responsibility of designing the community mural, “Jazz in the Gorge: The River of Life.” Each student took two sections of the mural to plot on paper and transfer to the wall. Every two inches on the paper equaled one foot of wall. They estimate that there are over 1,000 squares lining the 225-feet wall.
“We started planning right when we found out,” Monroe said. “We were all on the same page. When we first planned it out, we came down to the Gorge to think about what it should include. We thought it should include nature and reflect on the jazz history since Starr-Gennett recorded down here. It all just ties into the theme. Because it is the community mural, it needed to be simple and straightforward. It had to be something that people of any age or ability could paint and it had to be able to be done quickly.”
The mural incorporates the elements of jazz, nature, and woodland creatures into the Gorge’s mural. Each element ties the community to the mural in its new home under Sim Hodgin Parkway.
“Since this was a family event, we thought this should be something fun and whimsical,” Wood said.
To complete the mural over 150 people gathered on July 10 in the Gorge to paint in the finely outlined shape of Hoagie Carmichael and woodland creatures.
The mural now stretches its curved line through the Gorge. Surrounded by trees and the sound of the river, it’s a peaceful environment disturbed only by passing cars.
And what have the students learned?
That mural painting is not glamorous.
“I hoped that they learned that just how unglamorous painting murals really is,” Bliss said. “It is harder work than any kind of painting than you would do in a studio. You can’t control the temperature or the lighting. It’s very physical.”
They learned the administrative process of meeting zoning laws and worked with the police department to get a permit to close the street. They spent times in scissor lifts or mixing and pouring paint. They sweated out the heat with temperatures at times reaching 160 degrees on the hot asphalt pavement.
“It just cooked us,” Wood said.
And they were often covered in paint.
“Pamela has taken us from the very beginning of a mural and she has let us do it hands-on. That’s what makes a great teacher,” Monroe said.
As Wayne County is celebrating its bicentennial this year, the students are looking forward to seeing the mural for years to come. They know that they have created a piece of history. In a rewarding sense, they have gathered a community for one day to work together, no matter the age, background or race, to create a work of art to be enjoyed by all that pass by there.
“I had one woman stop and talk with me about how awesome this will be for years to come - that she could go by this mural and know that she was a part of it,” Appleberry said.
Ron Deane, a local Richmond artist, volunteered his help to the students but found he was just as much of a student as Wood, Appleberry, and Monroe. Deane helped paint the mural, especially from the top of the high wall, earning the nickname “The Ladder.”
“I think this unifies people. The River of Life is what this is about. People of all ages, diversity and background were here to work on the mural,” Deane said. “It was definitely a multicultural experience.”
Community leaders including Richmond Mayor Sally Hutton, Chief of Police Kris Wolski, and the fire department, just to name a few, volunteered their help.
“People just keep thanking us for having the opportunity. This was about more than just the work of art going on. It was the involvement of the community in the whole thing,” Bliss said. “This project was to get the community involved in art and to know that they didn’t have to be an artist to work on the murals.”
Now their work lives on as a part of Richmond’s history.
To learn more about the Festival of Murals, go to http://www.festivalofmurals.com.