Larger Than Life
Local Artist Pamela Bliss Talks Painting the Iconic, 60-foot Tall Reggie Miller Mural In Indy
Photographer: Michael Durr
As Pamela Bliss walks by the now famous 60-foot tall mural of Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller she stops, like most people who pass by, and stares up at the work of art. Her admiration for the mural is a bit more personal than the average passerby.
Bliss is the local artist who was tasked with painting the Reggie Miller mural. After more than a month of hard work, she completed the masterpiece in mid-October. Now, for those who see the intricate detail of the massive mural portraying Reggie lining up a three-pointer with his trademark jump shot, it might be hard to believe that Bliss didn’t even start painting until she was 30 years old.
Her uncanny knack for art all started with a turkey.
“My mother will tell you I started drawing when I was two years old,” Bliss says. “I painted a turkey at Thanksgiving, and she said it wasn’t the typical scribble that a child might make. You could really tell it was a turkey, and that was unusual for a two-year-old. For as long as I can remember, I always had a pencil and paper in my hands. I never considered it could be a career, though. But by the end of college, I knew I wanted to go into art. I’ve always paid great attention to details.
“I had a teacher in high school that told me I couldn’t paint. She was an English teacher filling in as an art teacher that year. I always knew I could draw, but I never knew really if I could paint. I took a four-day workshop when I was 30 years old, and I realized that I could. I just needed to be shown how to mix paints.”
Bliss grew up in New Castle and went to high school in Cambridge City, Indiana. Aside from moving and finishing her last two years at a high school in California, Bliss has been a lifelong Hoosier. She earned her undergraduate degree from IU’s east campus and her masters from IU Bloomington. She has been an Indianapolis resident since 2001.
Earlier last year, Bliss was approached by Ben Jafari — the owner of the office building at 127 E Michigan Street — about possibly painting a mural on the side of his building. Jafari, a lifelong Pacers fan, knew he wanted a Pacers legend to be painted. The decision for the mural to be Reggie Miller came quickly, but the process took much longer. Jafari and Bliss had plenty of hoops to jump through to get the mural approved, between approval from Miller himself for the use of his likeness, the city of Indianapolis to the Indiana Pacers and the NBA.
Bliss worked on the mural many hours a day, often from early morning up until dark, for more than a month. She says the hardest part, aside from dealing with cold or rainy weather, is being up so high to paint the mural.
“It’s the tallest mural I’ve ever done,” Bliss says. “I have a fear of heights actually. I just have to zone out. I always get butterflies in the beginning when I start. I use a lift to get up there and all of them are different. Some are jerky. After a few days, I realize I’m not going to die, and I can carry on and focus more on the painting. I start from the top down because paint drips. So I’m high up from the very beginning, which helps get the highest part over with.”
This isn’t the Hoosier artist’s first rodeo with murals. Those walking along Mass Ave have marveled for years at the detailed mural of one of Indy’s most famous authors, Kurt Vonnegut. Hoosiers have Bliss to thank for that masterpiece as well. Bliss has also painted the jazz musicians that can be seen along Indiana Avenue. She has even worked with the Pacers in painting a Hall of Fame mural, which resides in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But her most recent mural might be her favorite of all.
“I’ve been wanting to paint Reggie for years,” Bliss says. “He deserves it. I’m just honored to have been selected to do it. This isn’t just a mural of Reggie Miller. It also depicts a moment in time when Hoosier hysteria was at its height with the Pacers. This mural ranks No. 1 for me. Part of the reason I wanted to move to Indianapolis back in 2001 was to paint large murals around the city.”
The responses from the community, as you can imagine, have been overwhelmingly positive for Bliss. Indy residents, tourists visiting the city and more have flocked to stop by and see the mural, and they never leave without first taking a selfie.
“Only Reggie could fill this space,” Jafari says. “I always see people stopping to take pictures. It has really been great for the community of Indianapolis. I’m just honored to have the mural on our building and grateful to Pamela for creating this amazing piece of art.”
Perhaps the highest praise for Bliss came from Miller himself. After seeing images online of the finished mural, the Pacers legend took the time to reach out to Bliss and congratulate her.
“He called me one day and said, ‘This is fantastic. I can’t wait to come back and see it in person and give you a huge hug,’” Bliss says. “That was really amazing. Most people are critical about pictures of themselves, much less a painted portrait. I was surprised, honestly, when Reggie even gave the approval for me to do it. I’m very happy that he is happy with it.”
As for the future, Bliss isn’t sure what will be next. She says she would love to paint other legendary Indiana sports figures like Peyton Manning or Tamika Catchings, among other non-sports figures. For now, she is happy to have her most recent masterpiece completed.
Either way, she’s sure to have a paintbrush in her hand for whatever project comes next.
The Reggie Miller Mural is located downtown at 127 E Michigan St. For more information on Bliss or to view more of her artwork, visit pamelabliss.gallery.