GUEST POST: Jeff Schaller - The Story Behind the Iron Hill Murals

I’m Jeff Schaller, your local artist and the man behind the Iron Hill murals. Kind of like the wizard behind the curtain but a bit taller. I paint all the murals at my studio in Downingtown, PA. My attempt to convince owner Kevin Finn to let me do the murals on site at night with access to beer was quickly shot down.

Within all the murals I capture three elements: the restaurant (Fine Foods), the brewery (Beer on Draught), and the Irons. (Once you say the word “Iron,” it makes sense.) That is what my art is about, the a-ha moment, taking the ordinary and adding a whimsical surprise. I took what was the original design in Newark and added a little bit of me to it.

My first mural with Iron Hill was in the Wilmington, DE location. I design the murals to read from left to right. The more recent murals start with “Fine Food,” a beer goddess, a salutation, irons on a hill followed up with some local flare. Somewhere in-between is usually a guy enticing the viewer to beer on draught, … and happiness.

WILM-bar-mural1-300x125.jpg

Wilmington

Since this was the first mural I had no formula. I used vintage signs as inspiration; you’ll notice the distressed look on the “Fine Food” part. This is followed by a businessman who is very happy to see a beer larger than his head. The dots… well, I use a lot of dots in my own artwork, I like dots. The mural ends with good beer and the first glimpse of what will later become the beer goddess. The original version had the woman holding a bottle. I later found out IH doesn’t serve bottles. 

NW-Beer-lady1.jpgNorth Wales

This is the mural where I introduce the beer goddess, a French Nouveau woman from the “Bieres de la Meuse” a vintage beer advertisement. The irons are under-painted and then the black is silk-screened, using the same technique as Andy Warhol. The mural ends with kudos for the “Best Beer” and a tongue and cheek directional arrow pointing to the brewery stating how easy it is if you just follow the steps.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          PHX-revised-300x115.jpgPhoenixville

This mural literally swings into action with our beer goddess on a swing. She smiles and sips her pint with poppies and wheat in her hair. Really! I didn’t make this up. She can be found in a vintage ad from Russia. With this mural I decided to add a local flair and make every one unique. I’m not sure why and don’t hold it against me, but Phoenixville had some good dive bars, and all good dive bars have wood paneling, thus I introduced, “Beer on Draught” on wood panel. The mural wraps up with a man working on steel; steel being a big part of Phoenixville’s history.

Lancaster-wide-revised-300x108.jpgLancaster

There is no rhyme or reason to why “Beer on Draught” is first in this mural; it just looked better that way. The beer goddess’ hair flows with wheat and hops and leads the viewer to a toast. I loved the idea of the mural being high and above the bar so I painted the sequence of people looking over the crowd wishing them happiness. Now if you had to think of one thing about Lancaster and you weren’t from there, what would you think? I’m not from there and I always pronounce it wrong, but I think country and when I think country I think cow. That is why there is an 8’ cow over your head in this mural as you enjoy your favorite beer.

ironHill_WC_horse-300x200.jpgWest Chester

West Chester is known for its horses and barns; Andrew Wyeth captured this so poetically. I’m not as poetic and found great humor in creating the iconic imagery in paint by numbers. In between these two icons there is a silkscreen of the original building, Woolworth, which IH now occupies. Some historic accuracy mixed in with clichés make for a fun mural. On a side note I found the image for this beer goddess in an antique shop in Argentina.

MapleShade-muralB-300x194.jpgMaple Shade

This mural was fun to design because it read left to right but it also has a reverse side. My first two sided mural! I was also able to use all my good New Jersey jokes; as in, the famous question you ask when someone states they are from New Jersey, “What Exit?” But NJ is known for more than its bad jokes. Since I couldn’t fit Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi on the entire mural, I opted for agriculture with fresh vegetables and the Pine Barrens. The big grey mass before the exit sign is the Battleship NJ. I do enjoy the back room when part of the mural (“thguarD no reeB”) reads in reverse as if you were seeing the back of the mural.

Newark-revised-300x146.jpgNewark

This was the first IH but for me it was my seventh mural. For this mural I wanted to capture the essence of classic, first.  What a better way then nostalgic black and white imagery? That is why this beer goddess is in black and white. The mural ends with black and white too; showing the date IH was first established. Oh so nostalgic! Do not forget the irons and the hen in between. The irons are on the hill and the hen is big and blue to highlight the University of Delaware spirit.

Media-revised-300x108.jpgMedia

In the original image of the beer goddess, her hair flows through the stars in the midnight sky. In Media she makes the segue between “Fine Food” and a trolley ride. One of the things Media is known for are their vintage trolleys, which is is painted toward the end of the mural. One thing it may not be known for, however, is their FBI headquarters that held secret files that proved the continuation and  the existence of COINTELPRO. As the story goes, activists broke into the building in 1971 and stole the files. They exposed the FBI, for infiltrating and discrediting political organizations. I just could not help capture that James Bond espionage movie glamour.

CH-revised1-300x57.jpgChestnut Hill

Last but not least, only because it just opened up January 2012. My most recent mural is a visual play on words. The beer goddess welcomes the viewer with her salutation, “Here’s to health.” The irons fall whimsically on the landscape only to be stopped by this green delivery man. He, that frequents many murals, stops the irons on the hill to inform them that this is Chestnut Hill. Ok. So this is how it plays out in my head. Photos of the nearby Morris Arboretum highlight the community. The photo is of a Swan Pond; notice the two swans in the picture. But wait, it gets even cleverer. The temple in the photo is Love Temple, which leads us into “I Heart Beer on Draught.” Of course the “I Heart” might look familiar because it is borrowed from Milton Glaser’s “I Heart NY” logo.

You might have to look some things up. I hope you enjoyed some of the insight that goes on in these visual stories of fine food, draught beer and local history. Hopefully you will share some of these a-ha moments with other customers. No doubt a little bit of wisdom and laughter leads to a healthier life and beer leads to … happiness.

Cheers!

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