Jobs with Insufficient Access to the Wall

On various jobs over the years, I’ve had to improvise when there wasn’t sufficient access to the mural surface. One that stands out in my mind was a midwestern zoo job featuring an artificial mangrove swamp.

The theme company I was subcontracting for had to install the mangrove plants before I could get the background painted. This meant painting the scene through the tangle of mangrove branches, where there was often insufficient space to get in a hand with a brush, let alone a spray gun. To aggravate matters, the back side of the artificial branches often contained rusty, razor-like barbs from steel mesh poking through the epoxy putty.

I solved the problem by cutting the bottoms out of tall plastic cups and wearing the cups like armor secured to my forearms with duct tape. The end result was acceptable but nothing like I envisioned if I had been allowed adequate access to the wall.

Jesus Was a Plumber?

A long time ago, when I was working as a custom cabinetmaker and doing murals as a sideline, I was hired to paint a religious scene in the lunchroom at a Catholic hospital in a rural Illinois town. Supervising me would be the half-dozen-or-so nuns from the order that had founded the hospital. Continue reading

Bird Brains

Shorebirds exhibit murals in the Aviary at Milwaukee County ZooI was painting a beach scene for a flightless shore bird exhibit for the renovation of the aviary at the Milwaukee County Zoo in 1993. The Zoo folks seemed pleased with what they were seeing, commenting on how realistic the sand dunes looked. “Like you could just run up them,” they said. Continue reading

Where’s Pauldo?

It all started while on my first zoo job at the Milwaukee County Zoo. They asked me to paint lichen on a tree trunk in a rhino hornbill exhibit in the aviary. While I was making the green-and-gray blobs, I realized one of them looked sort of like a silhouette of a person, so I added a tall collar and a pompadour and, voila — Elvis! Continue reading


One of the gifts that comes with the zoo side of my job is making the acquaintance of all sorts of exotic animals. Much of what I’ve learned from being on more intimate terms with these animals has surprised me. A good example would be how I learned to speak to tigers. Continue reading

Primate Behavior

Brookfield Zoo’s Tropic World exhibit is housed in a huge building, sort of like a zeppelin hanger, built in 1982-84. It was then the largest indoor zoo exhibit in the world. Unfortunately the French architect failed to include skylights; hence, no plants would grow inside, and hence its nickname among the staff, “Tragic World.” Continue reading


I was introduced to Samantha in 1991 when the Erie Zoo hired me to do scenic murals in the assorted animal exhibits of the main building, which included Samantha’s day room. The faux-rock guys had preceded me and turned two walls into natural-looking rock formations with artificial plants. Continue reading


The first commercial flight I took in 1957 was as a boy with my family, from New Orleans to Los Angeles. All of the men on the plane wore suits, I wore a coat and tie. My sisters wore frilly dresses. We checked our luggage and walked from the terminal at Moisant Field (now Louis Armstrong International Airport), across the open tarmac and climbed the rolling staircase into the fuselage. Continue reading


The Milwaukee County Zoo was my first, and remains one of my most loyal, zoo clients. In 1992, they asked me to paint murals in their Australia building. The hallway called for a “sunset over the Outback” mural about 9 feet tall by 124 feet long. Windows looking into the animal exhibits were located in the opposite wall. Beyond that stretched 124 feet of exhibit wall on which they wanted a mural that transitioned from arid Outback at one end to deep rainforest at the other. Continue reading

Language Barrier

In 1993 I was doing murals in the main building of the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, Minnesota. The building featured a café with a deck overlooking the small valley in which the Zoo was nestled. They wanted a mural on either side of the two serving windows in a back wall, and they wanted a mural of a wildlife preserve in India. …

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Whale of a Tail

I was doing murals for the Daytona Beach Marine Science Center in Florida in 2001. They had chosen a spot to lay out the prize whale skeleton, and they wanted the wall behind it to host a full-sized whale’s tail rising out of the ocean. It was an ideal location with one small problem: a red box with an emergency light, smack-dab in the center left half. Continue reading

Turkey Hunter

In my occupation one meets a lot of exotic animals and sometimes really out-of-the-ordinary people. In 1995 the Smithsonian in Washington hired me to do murals for a Duck Stamp exhibit. Apparently Duck Stamps are like a Federal license for hunting migratory water fowl. Continue reading

Attack of the Giant Centipede

In June of 2008 I was hired by Taylor Studios in Rantoul, Illinois, to do murals for the new Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans. The project had been delayed for years by the City’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina. I was particularly glad to land this job because it was in my home town and I hadn’t had the heart to go back and see the devastation since the storm. Continue reading