Mellencamp mural takes shape


On her way to a covered bridge festival west of Indianapolis on Thursday, Louisville resident Lisa Garrison took a detour off of Interstate 65 in Seymour.

She was looking for a place to have a tenderloin and wanted to see for herself the progress being made by artist Pamela Bliss on a 35-foot John Mellencamp mural on the side of a downtown Seymour building.

Garrison had heard about the project through social media posts and decided to check it out. She was impressed by the detail and how much it looked like Mellencamp, she said.

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As a former member of the Cherry Bombs, a John Mellencamp fan club, Garrison doesn’t mind going out of the way to appreciate the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

It’s that level of interest and devotion that brings Mellencamp fans from all over the world to experience Seymour, the inspiration behind his 1985 hit song “Small Town.”

They stop at places like Larrison’s Diner, Southern Indiana Center for the Arts and the Jackson County Visitor Center.

Another place that has become a mecca for Mellenheads is This Old Guitar Music Store at 106 W. Second St. Owned by Mellencamp friend and former band mate Larry McDonald, the store is somewhat of a Mellencamp museum. The walls are covered with old pictures and articles about Mellencamp along with his album covers.

McDonald has wanted the Mellencamp mural on the side of the building for six years but has struggled to get the idea off the ground.

“This goes back a long time,” McDonald said.

What he envisioned was just too big to get done on his own.

“I grabbed a hold of an elephant and didn’t know what to do,” he said.

The brick wall had to be repaired and prepped before painting could commence, but McDonald didn’t have the funds.

“We were having a hard time scraping up $300 or $400, let alone what this thing finally ended up being,” he said. “It was like pushing a steel ball up a hill. We just couldn’t get anywhere.”

So McDonald paid a visit to city hall to talk with Jana Plump, who is a classmate of Mellencamp’s. Plump works as an administrative assistant at city hall.

She took the request to Mayor Craig Luedeman who presented it to the Seymour Redevelopment Commission to see if they would be willing to fund the mural.

The total cost of the project is $25,106.

With the city’s support, the project was green lighted, but then in January 2017, a fire in a building next to This Old Guitar caused significant damage downtown and put the mural on hold.

But McDonald wasn’t going to let the idea go up in flames too. Since his building was spared any major damage, he continued to push for the mural.

One piece of the project McDonald says has always been in place is Mellencamp’s support.

“John has been extremely supportive of this from the start,” McDonald said. “He has been the easiest part of this.”

But it was never Mellencamp requesting the mural be done.

“He didn’t come to anybody in Seymour and say put my mug on the side of a building. I wanted that,” McDonald said. “He’s my friend and he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Although Bliss has been involved in the project for the past three years, she first met Plump 10 or 15 years ago.

“We started a conversation and I found out she was from Seymour,” Bliss said of Plump. “I told her, ‘Oh that’s where John Mellencamp is from. I would love to paint a John Mellencamp mural.’”

Bliss is well known in Indiana for her 60-foot mural of Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller and one of Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut, both in Indianapolis, where she lives. She also painted a mural in honor of the rich jazz history in Richmond and one of Abraham Lincoln in Cambridge City.

During her chance meeting with Plump, she made sure to give her a business card but didn’t hear back until years later when the city started discussing the Mellencamp mural.

Now that she’s nearly finished with the 35-foot image of Mellencamp leaning on a guitar, Bliss said the community will start to see an impact. The mural could last up to 40 years, Bliss added.

“You’ll be surprised what these murals will do for the town,” she said. “When you put a piece of public art somewhere, one thing it does is it’s education. Also, people appreciate the aesthetic of it, so it kind of creates a chain reaction and people start taking care of their community.”

The process of painting a large-scale mural is completely different than painting on traditional size canvas. Bliss has to use a boom lift in order to work.

“When you’re up there, the shapes are so big they’re abstract,” she said. “I’m getting better and better all the time at guessing.”

She has to get down from the boom lift frequently while painting in order to step back and see if the image is coming together how she wants. Bliss is painting the mural from different pictures of Mellencamp.

Whereas a wrinkle in Mellencamp’s suit can be off and no one will notice, the details of his face, such as his eyes, have to be spot on, she added. On Monday alone, Bliss spent six hours working on his face, and she’s still not done.

“I have to stand there for a long time and get it imprinted in my head what I need to do,” she said. The mental aspect of painting such a large mural is exhausting, she added.

The process begins with a chalk outline and then Bliss lays in colors followed by details and needed adjustments.

She estimates a project of this size will take four to six weeks because of weather and other mishaps. She’s already lost some time because of problems with the lift.

But she’s getting lots of positive feedback, she said.

“Yesterday, three guys that had gone to school with (Mellencamp) came by and were telling me stories, and it was really cool to hear that,” she said. “So far, I’ve gotten good response.”

McDonald said the mural is already getting a lot of attention and he hopes it leads to more interest and revitalization in downtown Seymour.

“If it gets somebody down here that wants to buy one of these empty buildings, by God put 10 murals down here,” he said.

The mural is also a way to boost tourism, which is good for the local economy, Bliss added.

“If they’re done well enough, then it draws people from out of town, so it’s economic,” she said. “They’re going to buy gas here. They’re going to go to the restaurants here.”

Bliss said she’s surprised that something hasn’t been done in Seymour for Mellencamp before now.

“He’s a legend,” she said. “I experienced John Mellencamp through his music. When I was a young adult, that was the music I associated with. That was a part of my being. I still listen to and sing the songs.”

But she’s never had the chance to meet him.

Because Mellencamp is an artist himself, Bliss said she feels “honored” to have the opportunity to paint him.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” she said.

Members of Mellencamp’s family who still live in the area, including his father, Richard; sisters, Janet Kiel and Laura Hackman, and brother, Joe, have all stopped by to see the progress.

“He loves it,” McDonald said of Richard Mellencamp.

“He gave me a hug,” Bliss added. “He was very excited.”

Now that she’s almost done with the image of Mellencamp leaning on the guitar, she will get started on the rest of the mural that will fill most of the building’s east facing wall.

Although John Mellencamp has not visited to see the mural yet, McDonald said he is planning on having an official unveiling in the future and has invited him.

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To learn more about Pamela Bliss’s murals, visit:


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