Artist returns to talk about John Mellencamp mural

The artist who painted the mural of singer John Mellencamp recently returned to the city to talk about her work.

Pamela Bliss of Indianapolis started work on the project in early October 2019 and finished six weeks later. The mural is located on the east wall of This Old Guitar Music Store, 106 W. Second St., Seymour.

In an interview-style format Sunday at the Jackson County Visitor Center in Seymour, Bliss talked about how she painted the mural and the challenges she faced and shared stories of the people she met while painting the wall, including Mellencamp himself.

Bliss has been creating outdoor and indoor murals, portraits and other canvas works for more than 30 years and has completed more than 50 murals.

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As for Bliss landing the Mellencamp mural project, she recalls having a conversation about 10 or 15 years ago with Jana Plump, an administrative assistant at city hall. Plump is a classmate of Mellencamp, a Seymour native who became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

“I think we were in Indianapolis and we got to talking,” Bliss said. “When she mentioned Seymour, I told her I’d love to paint a mural of John Mellencamp and gave her my business card, and she took the request to the mayor.”

The wall outside This Old Guitar had been considered for a Mellencamp mural since 2013, but it was never completed due to issues with how the mural was to be applied, the condition of the wall and getting Mellencamp’s approval.

A little more than three years ago, Plump still had Bliss’ business card and got in touch with her, which got the ball rolling again.

After the project was approved and with the city onboard, things were put on hold once more in January 2017 after a fire broke out causing extensive damage to the building next door to This Old Guitar.

Bliss said before any painting could begin, some areas of the wall needed pressure washed and repaired because they wanted the mural to last.

“I initially came down a couple of times … and then I drove around to see what the town was like,” Bliss said. “I remember listening to John’s music when I was a young adult, so this was very nostalgic for me.”

One of the challenges Bliss had with the mural was Mellencamp’s face. She said it might have been the angle, and there also was an issue with the contrast, but she kept working on it until she got the desired result.

Mellencamp’s sister, Janet Kiel, a first grade teacher at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, became friends with Bliss during the project.

One day at lunch, Kiel approached Bliss with the idea of bringing her students to the site to help fill in some of the open spaces on the wall.

“That was awesome and really fun to have the kids out there to paint,” Bliss said. “Then after the mural was done, I went to her classroom to work with the kids and got to know them personally, and that was a great experience for me.”

The day Mellencamp came to see the mural was a complete surprise to Bliss, and it also was the highlight of the experience for her.

“My sister happened to be there that day because she was in Indiana visiting family and stopped by to have lunch and was helping me paint a little,” Bliss said. “Actually, Mayor (Craig) Luedeman was there, too, and he walked over and said someone was there to see me, and I saw Janet and Richard Mellencamp first.”

When she saw John Mellencamp, all she could think of to say was “It’s nice to meet you,” and then she asked him if he would sign the guitar she had painted on the wall.

“In the photograph I was working from, there were initials on his guitar, and I was just getting ready to paint those initials when he came by,” she said. “So it was perfect, but I didn’t know if he’d sign the guitar because I didn’t know if he liked the mural or not.”

Bliss said him giving his approval was such a relief because not only is it his likeness, but he also is a portrait painter himself, so there was that extra added pressure.

“It was so exciting when he agreed to do it, and that’s something unique that my other murals don’t have, and that’s a stamp of approval,” Bliss said.

During the winter months, the cold weather does not allow Bliss to paint outside, so she utilizes that time by doing designs and applying for other projects. Once in a while, she will get an indoor project, but not very often.

Larry McDonald, owner of This Old Guitar, is thrilled that after six years, the idea he had of a mural has finally come to fruition.

“One of the coolest things that has happened with the mural is when Janet’s students came down there,” he said. “Also that week was the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, and we had about 300 FFA kids come through the store.”

McDonald said it has been incredible, has been something to bring the community together and is a true blessing for Seymour. It’s a great opportunity for people to understand what John’s about, he said.

“We’ve probably given close to 500 tours here, and there have been people come from all over to see the mural and come through the store,” McDonald said. “Some of the folks were from Australia, California, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Russia, Canada and all over Indiana.”

McDonald and Mellencamp are old friends. The day the singer stopped by to see the mural and met Bliss, he then stopped in This Old Guitar to visit a while.

“We talked about the mural and how pleased he was with it, and we talked about the bands on the walls,” McDonald said. “Me and about five others were drummers for John at one time or another before he left.”

Seymour residents Sean and Kristal Hubbard were among the approximately 35 people in attendance for the event at the visitor center.

Kristal said she likes the mural and thinks it’s nice and that her husband would drive by on his way to work to see the progress on the mural when Bliss was working on it in the fall.

“The one day he didn’t drive by was the day he found out that John Mellencamp had been there,” she said. “He found out later that the time frame wouldn’t have worked anyway and Mellencamp visited the site during his work hours.”

David and Janice Hill drove more than three hours from Portage, located in northern Indiana, to meet the artist and hear her story.

“We found out about this event on Facebook and decided to make the trip down to see the artist,” Janice said. “I’m a huge Mellencamp fan, and we came down when the mural was still in the works in October, and it was about three-fourths of the way done at the time.”

David said he is a Mellencamp fan, too, but not at the same level as his wife. He said they had gone to This Old Guitar to take pictures of the mural before heading over to the visitor center for the program that morning.

“When we went to see the mural last October, we also went out to the art center to see John’s art exhibit,” Janice said. “Sean (Hildreth, executive director of the art center) said we needed to go inside of the guitar store while we were in town and ask for Larry. He and his wife are two of the nicest people ever.”

Janice said they attended the Bobby Clark concert at Southern Indiana Center for the Arts that weekend, too and it was like a Mellencamp reunion because John’s dad and sisters were there along with Clark.

“We got some photos out there with them, and it was really great,” Janice said. “I told my husband when we rolled into Seymour today that we’re finding our way around better and really getting to know this town.”

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Mural statistics

  • John Mellencamp with guitar is about 35 feet tall.
  • Mellencamp wearing FFA jacket is about 22 feet tall (same height as guitar).
  • Pamela Bliss hand-painted the mural over a course of six weeks with only a few days off.
  • The mural and background required about 40 gallons of paint.

An art gallery of Pamela Bliss can be viewed online at pamelabliss.gallery.

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