TALL STORY: Hoosier artist’s downtown mural celebrates agricultural roots

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Artist Pamela Bliss has been putting the finishing touches on the 35-foot mural, which depicts a pastoral scene. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Pamela Bliss has made a career helping communities celebrate their heritage through art.

The nationally known artist has painted a 60-foot tall mural of basketball great Reggie Miller and a 38-foot-tall mural of author Kurt Vonnegut in downtown Indianapolis, plus a 35-foot-tall rendering of rocker John Mellencamp in his hometown of Seymour.

This weekend, she’s putting the finishing touches on a larger-than-life mural in downtown Greenfield that celebrates Hancock County’s agricultural roots.

The 35-foot-tall mural, on the east wall of the building at the southeast corner of Main Street and American Legion Place, portrays an older farmer gesturing excitedly as he shares a story with a younger man and young girl.

The three are gathered along a fence in a farm field, supposedly swapping stories of life on the farm.

The mural, titled “Tall Tales,” is meant to capture the farming roots that run deep in Hancock County, said Bliss, who started work on the mural in early June.

Bliss said she intended to create a scene worthy of  Norman Rockwell, with all eyes focused on the older farmer spinning a tall tale.

“I wanted that over-exaggeration and a little bit more animation to their personalities, that Norman Rockwell-esque type of look in the people’s faces,” she said.

Bliss said her vision was based on direction from the Downtown Greenfield Mural Committee, which commissioned her to do the mural thanks to a grant from the local White Family Foundation.

The Whites, an eastern Hancock County family with farming ties of their own, allocate funds to local causes through the Hancock County Community Foundation.

“We felt it was very appropriate given the fact that our community is very agriculturally driven,” said Tami White, who lives on a local family farm that’s been passed down through her family for generations.

“This mural upholds what a proud community we are in supporting today’s agriculture endeavors.”

Bliss said it was an honor to create a piece of art celebrating the county’s farming roots and small-town heritage.

She grew up in Cambridge City in Wayne County, and though she lives in Indianapolis, still considers herself to be a small-town girl.

Her Greenfield mural features the likeness of three Hancock County residents — Tom Graham, Jay Shininger and Katie Brown — who were selected by local theater director Chris Schaefer.

Brown, a recent Eastern Hancock High School graduate, spent years doing local children’s theater. Shininger’s three kids are also local actors. Graham is a neighbor and friend of Schaefer’s, who was happy to portray the animated older farmer in the scene.

Ironically, the two men closely matched the renderings Bliss had already sketched out. Brown was a bit older than the young girl she had sketched, so the artist painted the young girl as a teenager instead.

“She still helps to represent the three generations, which represents the past, present and future,” said Bliss, who felt strongly about including a female in the mix.

“Women are an important part of the farming community too,” she said.

Lorraine Ewing, whose family’s Hancock County farm roots go back five generations, was thrilled to hear the new mural was honoring that heritage.

“I think it’s great that we are paying homage to our Hancock County agricultural past, present and future, because that’s been a big part of who we are” as a county, she said.

Bliss has made a living creating such larger-than-life visuals that tell a story for individual communities. It typically takes her four to six weeks to complete one of her murals, depending on the weather.

She’s been doing commissioned work for the past 30 years, becoming a full-time artist in 2005.

Bliss remembers being creative from a young age, picking up a pencil to start drawing at age 2.

It took years for her to discover her knack for painting. however.

“When I was a child I would draw what I would see, and I remember getting frustrated because I just had a pencil. I didn’t know I needed paint,” she said.

She vividly remembers how, years later in a high school art class, a teacher told her she had no skills and no future as a painter.

“It turns out I did,” Bliss recalled.

Stung by the criticism, she didn’t start exploring her love of painting until she took some art classes in college. But once she started, she never stopped.

“I took a workshop for portrait painting where I learned how to manipulate oils, and it was just like ‘boom,’ as soon as I learned that medium it was like I knew it all along,” she said.

It turned out painting was very much like drawing. “You’re just filling in the color basically,” Bliss said.

On Thursday, July 8, the public will get a chance to meet the artist at a reception and mural dedication at Tour of Italy, just east of the county courthouse, which is right next door to the new mural.

Greenfield city planner Joanie Fitzwater said the event is a great way for people to meet the artist and to see the new mural up close.

The view of the mural will soon open up when a row of trees that is currently blocking the view from the east are removed.

Fitzwater said the Hancock County commissioners unanimously agreed earlier this week to remove the invasive pear trees, which are adjacent to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

“The sheriff’s department said they don’t like trees around their facilities anyway, for safety purposes, so the commissioners agreed to remove them and grind the stumps down,” she said.

Local nonprofit organization Greenfield in Bloom has volunteered to plant a memorial garden in the trees’ place, commemorating longtime horticulturist Ron Marlin, who owned Marlin Plant Kingdom in Greenfield.

Marlin had a long history of donating and discounting flowers to be planted in downtown Greenfield, said Fitzwater, who thought the memorial garden would be the perfect tribute to the popular grower, who died in May.

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The public is invited to an open house to meet Hoosier artist Pam Bliss, who is completing the “Tall Tales” mural in downtown Greenfield.

The reception is from 4-6 p.m. Thursday, July 8, at Tour of Italy, at 5 American Legion Place in Greenfield. The mural is on the backside of the building just north of the restaurant.

The cost is $10 at the door, which supports the downtown mural project. Appetizers will be served.

RSVP by July 6 at forms.gle/wrFqUYfAmUKRqprY6.

The mural project and artist reception are being coordinated by the Downtown Greenfield Mural Committee, a collection of community leaders dedicated to bringing large-scale murals to downtown Greenfield.

This will be the second mural the committee has commissioned. The first was “A Barefoot Boy,” based on a James Whitcomb Riley poem, painted on a building across the parking lot from Lincoln Square Pancake House. It was painted in 2018 by internationally known Los Angeles artist Andrew Hem.

Bliss has been a professional artist for more than 30 years, and is known for large-scale murals like those of Reggie Miller and Kurt Vonnegut, both in downtown Indianapolis.

To see more of Bliss’s work, visit pamelabliss.gallery.

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