By Gina Beech
Summer in Athens is synonymous with renovation. Roads are repaved, saws are buzzing and the smell of fresh paint is in the air. One South Green paint job, however, is far from ordinary. Artist Douglas Arnold returned to Ohio University June 23-27 to restore a mural he painted as a resident of Weld Hall in 1972.
The mural, which features the iconic faces of Beatles John, Paul, George and Ringo, has greeted students in the recreation room for 36 years. Water damage, rust and chipped paint necessitated the renovation, but until recently, the housekeeping staff didn't know how to reach the artist.
Last fall, housekeeper Sheila Jewell spotted Arnold and his wife taking photos by the mural.
"It was just after Parents Weekend, so I thought they were just parents," Jewell said.
She told the couple that the mural was painted in the '70s. Arnold just smiled, but his wife broke in, saying, "He's the original artist."
Jewell asked if he would refresh his work. His wife answered a resounding, "Yes, we would." Arnold returned to the hall ready to paint nine months later.
Arnold, who studied architecture as an undergraduate, originally painted the Beatles mural as a class assignment, for which he earned an A.
"A lot of people were painting murals of flowers and stuff, but none of them survived," he said.
The Residence Life staff of Weld hall, which was known simply as Building 7 in the '70s, was supportive of Arnold's work. Not only did they allow him to paint the mural, but they let him use one of the third-floor common rooms as a woodcarving studio.
Arnold relived part of his college experience while painting. He stayed in Adams Hall, and his loud, albeit classical, music blared through the open rec room windows of Weld Hall as he focused on the Fab Four.
"(The Beatles) are to music what the presidents are to Mount Rushmore," he said, citing the timeless icons and good composition as reasons the mural is still around. The high-contrast solid black figures on a yellow field were taken from the album cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
Arnold doesn't know exactly what inspired the color palette, but he suspects the yellow and black of his high school mascot -- the Perrysburg (Ohio) Yellow Jackets -- may have influenced him.
Another of Arnold's artistic influences is the Toledo Museum of Art, where he attended Saturday art workshops as a child.
"I can still remember the smell of cork floors and ceramics," he said. "I'd wander around the upper floors (of the museum) making my parents wait for hours."
In 1974, Arnold left Ohio for Denver before he completed his degree. He worked as a draftsman and designer before starting his own company. But he never lost sight of his artistic roots and continues to paint photo-realistic scenes from everyday life.
"In 500 years, people can look at your work and say, 'Wow, (life) was like that.' That's why I like realism. I want to see what people saw and felt," he said.
The Ohio University mural policy doesn't usually allow for such longevity; murals are typically painted over after five years unless they have historical significance, Beverley Wyatt, director of housing, said. Arnold's is an obvious exception.
Wyatt secured Arnold lodging and a rental car for the week. Home Depot donated Behr paint, which Arnold affectionately refers to as 'liquid laminate' because of its resistance to stains and aging.
"I think students will walk back in here in the fall and do a double take," Arnold said. He retained the essence of the mural while adding more detail to the faces and clothing.
Just like Arnold did in the '70s, today's students can seek permission from the Residence Life staff to paint murals in their residence halls to leave their own mark on Ohio University.
"I like when students paint murals in the residence halls," said Michael Goode, Weld Hall resident assistant. "It gives the residents the chance to make the hall more their own and makes the halls more interesting."
Arnold said he was happy to come back to Athens.
"The best thing for any artist is knowing their art will outlive them."