Whenever Stuart Bohlim had dinner with his wife at Jams Bar and Grill, he made sure to sit with his back to the wall-length mural, a colorful nightlife scene that became an icon for regulars of the restaurant.
“When you work on something like that, you get tired of it after a while,” he said. “All you do is see the mistakes.”
It’s Bohlim’s handiwork that’s somewhat anonymously decorated the popular restaurant since the early 1990s. He created the commissioned work, called “Blues Bar,” in 1991.
Now that the mural has been taken down, it will be sold this weekend on proxibid.com as part of a charity auction. The mural’s eight sections are all part of the online auction starting Sunday.
Bohlim has, as you might imagine, mixed feelings about the fate of the mural.
Now 52 and working full time with Envoy Inc. as an art director, Bohlim got the Jams gig after hearing about it through an agent, Holly Hackwith, who runs the Omaha-based Corporate Art Co.
Bohlim said the restaurant owner, architects and interior designers already had an idea of the color scheme they wanted for the large-scale mural — purples, blues, pinks and oranges — and they wanted a lively nightlife scene.
“They wanted to give the illusion that the place was crowded,” he recalled, “just packed with people.”
He found someone in town who could build the canvasses, seven of them, each about 4 by 8 feet. (The eighth canvas came into play later.) Then he got to work.
“We had a two-bedroom basement apartment in Dundee,” he said. “They delivered the panels, and somehow we got them into the basement area.”
Bohlim and his wife, Rita, spent a night priming them with rollers in the laundry room. He built two oversized paint palettes, each about two feet around, to hold the paint, one to mix cool colors and the other, warms. He blocked out shapes using buckets of light, medium and dark purple paint and then started fashioning the figures.
Most of those people, contrary to what Jams regulars might have believed as they searched for signs of themselves in the mural, were from Bohlim’s imagination. But some were, in fact, portraits. The restaurant’s former owners are in the mural. Bohlim is in there, too; he’s depicted as one of the bartenders. A few others are from snapshots the owners gave him.
Bohlim finished the first panel in about 10 days. The rest went faster, about five or six days each, and he finished the entire work inside his six-week deadline. “I painted from dawn to dusk, sometimes well into the night.”
But the restaurant wasn’t ready to open. “They sat for a week and a half in my apartment.”
Once the seven panels were installed, Bohlim touched them up, connecting each panel with brush strokes so the work appeared as one whole unit.
The eighth panel came into play about 10 years later, when the restaurant owners moved the seventh panel off the back end of the mural and hung it in an adjacent party room. They asked Bohlim to create a new eighth panel.
“There is a sax player in the more recent panel. He matches up with the band in the first panel,” he said.
Bohlim said he hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that not too many people, even Jams diners, know who painted the mural. “I saw it as one big piece that I could make a mark with, at the time. It was an exciting project to work on.”
He has done a few other large-scale paintings. He did one for a private client in Denver who saw the piece at Jams and wanted something similar. Another was for Union Pacific: the depiction of train stations throughout history used to hang in the company’s cafeteria. He also made a J. Doe statue as part of one of the city’s public art projects. “Jungle Jim” was installed at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.
Bohlim said he’s not interested in trying to bid on a slice of his mural.
“I wouldn’t have the pocket change for that,” he said, though he hopes someone out there does.
“What would be really cool would be if one person bought the original seven and put it back as the original.”
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