Guild Member Paul Means Featured in The Butler Eagle
March 18, 2008
BY SANDY MARWICK
As an artist, Paul Means makes a living by observing details.
But no one can say the Butler man fails to see the bigger picture.
A painter for most of his career, the 53-year-old Means has come to specialize in artwork that spans from wall to wall - sometimes covering the ceiling.
One such project involved Johanna Morrison's bedroom, housed in the turret of her Victorian home. As part of a restoration project, Means painted the ceiling to look like the top of a white gazebo draped in wisteria and other flowers.
"We love it. It's beautiful," said Morrison, who lives in Glenshaw with her husband, Bruce.
"You wake up in the morning, and even if it's ugly outside - you see flowers and birds."
Although Means completed the gazebo about six years ago, more recent jobs include a 10-by-15-foot barn-raising scene for the Traditions restaurant in Martinsburg, Bedford County.
Unlike the dreamy garden in Morrison's turret, this mural bustles with color and characters.
Amish workmen and horse-drawn buggies dot a rolling countryside, where children play, horses graze and farm wives arrange a midday picnic.
To satisfy such diverse requests, Means relies on his own versatility. He also keeps a reference library from which to recreate time and place. But usually books are not enough.
Photo to farmscape
To create the barn-raising mural, Means began with a photograph containing a house and barn, which he then modified for the construction scene.
The structures were then set in a landscape resembling the terrain surrounding the restaurant.
"I went out to the area and spent about a half day just photographing the farms," Means said. "The painting is a composite of about five different photographs."
As well as creating a spanning landscape, Means used photographs for some of the characters: A horse and buggy were derived from a photograph taken while surveying the area with one of the restaurant owners.
"As we were leaving to go to look around the area, his father came down the road in a horse and wagon," said Means, who later realized the image would enhance the foreground of the mural.
"It was just fortuitous that he came by at that moment."
Means' collie, Chelsea, and two of his house cats also appear in the picture.
Although some of his paintings are done in acrylic paint, the barn-raising mural is painted in oils - Means' preferred medium.
"I love the look," he said. "Oil gives you a little more depth. The transparency is a lot easier to control with oil paints than with acrylic."
Although oil paints typically take longer to dry, a medium can be added to the paints to expedite the process - a desirable option when covering walls.
Since many of his clients are based outside the county, Means typically paints the large sheets of canvas, adhering them to walls with wallpaper paste when finished.
"It really cuts down on the travel time," said Means, noting the artwork can then be relocated if owners move.
Without space to work on expansive projects in the home he shares with his wife, Carol, and 14-year-old son Alex, Means sometimes paints on large canvases in unused space at the Family Bowlaway.
Even though the canvases remain temporarily at the entertainment center in Butler Township, Means is leaving a more permanent mark.
With help from Haley McKinney, an art student at Slippery Rock University, the party room at Family Bowlaway is slowly becoming a tropical beach with blue skies and surfers in the background.
Unlike most of his work, the party room is being painted with latex wall paint, designed to better withstand its purpose.
"It's for kids," Means said.
"You want kids to come and have fun."
After many years of restoring his Victorian home and helping on various others, the project also allowed Means the chance to recycle unused products.
"I took every drop of latex eggshell paint I had, then started mixing colors," he said.
Signs of the times
The result of his mixing skills can be seen in the cool blues and yellows that cover the party room from floor to ceiling. But the skills took time for Means to develop.
While in the Air Force after high school, Means worked as a painter in the civil engineering branch, often taking over the sign shops in various locations where he served.
After his military service, Means attended the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, then worked for the Rohn Company there, which specialized in decorating churches.
As part of his job, Means worked with gold-leafing, mosaics, marbleizing and wood graining. He also worked with color.
"It helped me immensely," he explained, describing massive quantities of paint often mixed in garbage cans.
"I learned in art school how to mix color, but seeing it on a large scale is what liberates you."
After 2Z\x years with Rohn, Means began working construction jobs with a general contractor, eventually going out on his own, all the while marketing himself to decorators.
A shift away from construction took hold in the mid-1980s, when one client was looking to mount decorative fabric along a wall and down a staircase.
"I said, 'I could do that in paint,'" Means recalled.
"Long story short: I showed it to the client. ... They said 'Do it.' It helped get me going in the right direction."
Simultaneously, displays at the Junior League of Pittsburgh's annual decorator showcases helped to propel Means' painting career forward.
His wife, Carol, also played a role.
"My wife is my best critic," Means said, noting Carol once dabbled in painting. "She has a good eye. We make a good team."
"I like his large-scale landscape murals the best, I think," said Carol, speculating some of her husband's professional success has come from his sincerity in seeking feedback.
"He's worked very hard to get where he is," she said.
"He has constantly wanted to improve his work and take it to another level."
The feedback and evolution also come with each project, as Means begins by listening to clients to discern their visions.
"I try to find out as much what they don't want as what they do want," he said, explaining how those talks lead to a preliminary sketch and then a watercolor rendering on regular-sized art paper.
"It's so much easier to make a change on the sketch pad than on the wall," he added.
With most jobs taking several months to complete, Means is never idle for long.
"The one thing that has kept me going is word-of-mouth," he said.
"I'm continuously being referred from one client to another client."
A contingent of clients also hires Means for multiple projects.
"He's been coming here probably since 1993," Morrison said, citing multiple paintings in her home, plus faux finishes like marbleizing a fireplace and wood graining and leatherizing other surfaces.
Donna and Bill Bookwalter of Fox Chapel also continued hiring Means after he transformed their son Will's bedroom into a hockey rink more than 10 years ago.
To transform the room, all walls were painted to resemble the arena. A goalie net was painted where his headboard would be, with full-sized images of Mario Lemieux and other favorite players from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It was supposed to be my son's hockey team playing the Penguins," Donna Bookwalter explained.
"My son's in there. My husband and I and my one daughter are in the stands.
"When it first went up ... I would walk by and swear there was a man standing there," she said of the prominent Lemieux image.
"It took me a long time to get used to that."
The Bookwalter home also features trompe l'oeil scenes, or facades that trick the eye into thinking a painted image is real. Those include bookcases containing medical books belonging to Bill Bookwalter, a neurosurgeon.
Some scenes include beloved pets or recreated memories of cherished vacations
Recently, Means updated a wall done seven years ago when the Bookwalters' daughter, Kylie, was 10.
The pastoral scene in her bedroom included horses and an image of Kylie, now a nationally ranked equestrian.
For the update, Means replaced Kylie's outdated image with a current one, adding horses she has since acquired.
Paintings still being planned include a beach scene for their 14-year-old daughter and a Russian scene for their son, 13.
Despite the many images embellishing the Bookwalter home, Means has done hundreds more for other clients in the region.
Usually taking months to complete, costs for the murals often begin at $6,000, but prices rarely reflect his time.
"This took me three months to paint. I figured I'd be done in two," he said of the barn-raising project, explaining how tweaking the many components often takes longer than planned.
"You've got to find out what the market will bear," he said.
"(But) what you leave there is a statement about you."
Old Saint Luke's Church, 330 Old Washington Pike, Scott Township, Pennsylvania.
August 19, 2006
Lots of rustic charm in a Holy Place that's jam-packed with local history! Old St. Luke's church is certainly on of the region's classic frontier landmarks and one of the most "picturesque" structures. The use of this site goes back to its original set up as a stockade in 1765. A wooden chapel preceded the stone structure that we see today, which was built in 1851, out of fieldstone in the gothic style. Yes, this is the site of the "Whiskey Rebellion" in 1794 which had a direct impact on the popularity of Gen. John Neville, one of the areas well known early settlers. The church has a well established website that contains their historical archives and lots of great "insight" anecdotes.
Conservation and restoration are ongoing themes on a building that is over 150 years old. Last summer Cathy McCollom of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation requested an assessment of the problems with the stained glass windows and the wooden framing system. A site inspection revealed a number of problems that needed to be addressed.
Several members of the West Penn Craft Guild agreed to meet at the site, discuss the various problems and develop a comprehensive conservation program for these windows. The exterior paint job was cracked, peeling and running. The caulk beads on the exterior and interior glazing had cracked and failed. Water had infiltrated the existing wood sash and jamb assemblies and the wood sills, causing rot and joint failure. Some sash frames required replacement. Water damage was beginning to show on the interior masonry. The wooden double hung sash and jamb that exists is a hybrid assembly that incorporates the acrylic storm lenses in the sash frame. The framing elements are smaller than standard dimension and have no counterweights. Many of the windows were inoperable.
Wet wood was the obvious problem to eliminate. Everyone went to work on assigned tasks. The amount of prep work to remove all of the old bad paint was extensive but essential. Custom Carpentry ended up replacing all or portions of 6 sills and numerous segments of exterior bead molding. Several of the sills were re-shaped to give proper run-off. All of the old exterior caulk beads were scraped out. Once the lower sash frames were removed, the openings were boarded up in a manner that allowed for quick removal and replacement. It was easy to work on the sills and jambs each day then quickly board up at the end of the workday. In the shop at Kelly Art Glass the windows were de-glazed on both sides. Repairs were made, everything was cleaned and the frames sanded, then primered. The windows were re-glazed with a flexible glazing caulk and shop painted.
Luke Markantone was putting topcoats on the exterior woodwork and running new caulk beads to insure watertight integrity of the new work. The tracks for the operating sash were scraped and all of the old debris removed. Sash frames and tracks were waxed and the stop moldings were carefully reset. Interior paint was applied and operation of the sash was checked.
All of the members of the Western Pennsylvania Craftsman's Guild enjoyed working together on this project to help preserve this important element of our cultural heritage.
-John W. Kelly
EVENT: November 1-3, 2006