XENIA — A Xenia artist has spent the last six weeks bringing history to life on a Greene Memorial Hospital wall.
If you walk through the main entrance and turn the corner, you might find Gary Blevins sitting on a stool, maybe standing, paint brush in hand, perfecting the steeple on the courthouse’s clock tower or filling in bricks on the old Hooven & Allison Co. rope factory.
Unless it’s lunch time, then he’ll be home down the road for a brief hiatus from painting.
“When I was given the opportunity to do this I thought it might be a challenge for me because it’s not in my wheelhouse,” Blevins said. “I haven’t done anything like this.”
At 65, he’s painted murals before — of bait shops and surf shops — fishing poles and sail boats and docks jutting out into the ocean.
But this mural is different.
“This is just kind of getting off my track and doing something different and fun. But it’s kinda neat. I’m known in Florida because I go down there three or four times a year and I paint there. But nobody knows that I do this in Ohio.”
The Springfield native and current Xenia resident is painting Greene County history in its near-entirety. That means everything you might think of when you think of Greene County: A portrait of Tecumseh, Shawnee warrior. The Ballard Road Covered Bridge, when it was red. The Wright Brothers in mid-flight.
“I knew I could do it — but this is pretty extensive here. I thought the subject matter would be fun to do and the fact that it might be something that would be long lasting that people can enjoy for a long time,” Blevins said.
There’s more to the wall, shown in “postcard-like” images: The Galloway Log House. Col. Charles Young’s home. The Little Miami Railroad.
The railroad was particularly difficult, Blevins said, explaining that he worked from a black and white photograph that was 2 inches by 1.5 inches.
“I just winged it. I had to make most of it up. Dealing with round wheels makes it a little tougher,” he said.
Blevins worked from photographs from the Greene County Historical Society and other pictures he found on the Internet. But he created his own colors, added extra detail, and varied the seasons for each image.
In one scene, snow gathers on the roof of a barn. Down the hall a little way, leaves turn from green to reds and yellows at the Collins One-Room Schoolhouse.
“I tried to make each one a little different with its atmosphere,” the artist said.
There’s Old Town United Methodist Church at sunset, too, and the Jacoby Mill at Old Town.
And of course, there’s the first image Blevins painted on the wall — Greene Memorial Hospital when it opened in 1951.
Blevins said his days start at the hospital around 5:30 or 6:30 a.m. and he paints until 3 or 4 p.m. All day long, people walk through the halls and comment on his work.
“They seem to like it so far. I haven’t heard anybody say ‘paint over that,’ ” Blevins added, laughing.
The artist sketches the image in pencil first, roughly fills in dark colors next, then builds layers of acrylic paint on top of that. It takes him about two days to complete an image.
“Each one has some elements that I like. My goal was to make something colorful. So that when people walk by here they can’t help but look at it. So hopefully it makes them feel better. It’s bright — I think they’re cheerful looking,” Blevins said.
Joan Baxter, a member of the Greene Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, said the auxiliary is sponsoring the project.
“Everything here is just showcasing the history of Greene County and how it has evolved over the years,” she said. “We’re trying to get as much history on one wall as we possibly can. Gary has been so faithful to do this for several weeks.”
Blevins attended the Dayton Art Institute and The Ohio State University, opened an art supply store in Springfield and also worked as a wedding and portrait photographer. Now, he’s licensed by OSU and paints and prints sports-related images. His work is displayed in two galleries in Destin, Fla., and he just recently became involved with the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
The artist anticipates about two more weeks of painting, and hopes the good comments from passersby will continue.
“When the older people come through, all they’re doing is identifying. They stop and look at it and say, ‘Oh, I remember when the railroad went through town, and I remember the hospital’ … and then the young kids come through and they start looking and they want to know what it is. So it’s an educational process, too,” Blevins said. “I think that’s really great and it’s important to keep these things alive.”
Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498.
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