It might not qualify as a cultural event, but walking past Shakespeare’s Pizza certainly can be an experience.
It’s always packed with students, professors, office workers and families who appreciate not only the food but also the flying chunks of dough, the comedic staff and shouts of “Pizza time!” erupting over the loudspeaker.
Now a passer-by can experience some of the high spirits and humor that embody the Shakespeare’s culture outside the restaurant as well.
Ned Vail’s building-long mural on the back of the pizzeria took two years to complete, but Shakespeare’s history is all there: the wide windows, the green chalkboard with the weekly top 10 list, the wacky employees and even Vice President Dick Cheney, who was painted into the mural after he dropped Shakespeare’s name into an MU commencement address last spring.
Vail’s goal was to capture the daily hustle and bustle of one of Columbia’s most popular hangouts.
Figures in the painting are wearing everything from business attire to
T-shirts from local schools and colleges to sports uniforms. Greek letters decorate the bottles on the mural’s bar in recognition of MU sororities and fraternities.
Battling the weather, as well as the challenge of painting on a brick wall, Vail said the biggest challenge was getting a snapshot of a culture he describes as ever changing.
Kurt Mirtsching, the owner, manager and self-styled “General Head Cheese” of Shakespeare’s Pizza, said he began thinking about creating a Shakespeare’s mural several years ago.
He commissioned Vail, who has worked on a number of local building murals, after the Downtown Columbia Association recommended the artist.
Vail finished his mural with help from local teen artists, who took part in an eight-week program organized by the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs called the CARE Gallery.
Vail said each student who worked on the mural contributed something different to its style. Many of the fine details on the characters in the mural, such as jewelry, tattoos and clothes, were done by the students.
“I really wanted to get a variety of styles on this,” Vail said. “If you look at Shakespeare’s, there’s a lot going on, and I thought it would be best represented if we had different feels as far as painting techniques.”
Sarah Paulsen, who will become director of the CARE Gallery next year, said the mural benefited from different backgrounds and cultures of the students who worked on it.
And the young artists benefit by exposing their skills at one of the most popular places in Columbia, as well as by having an opportunity to give something back to the community.
“The neat thing about the CARE Gallery is that we are not only putting the kids into the community — we are also putting their ideas and creations into the community,” Paulsen said. “The mural allowed them to be a part of something that is larger than them in a positive way.”
Vail said he hopes that by commemorating the current cultural climate with his mural, the next generation of pizza eaters will leave Shakespeare’s with a better understanding of life in Columbia and how it changes.
“It’s kind of a time capsule,” the artist said. “It captures this year, this summer certainly and the things of the past. Years later, we will look at this and know what was going on.”