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June 28, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
It’s impossible to miss the new mural featured at The Rome restaurant. The seven-panel painting hangs in the shape of an “L” with two panels above the front windows. It turns the corner above the host stand, and five more panels stretch into the dining room to take up 57.5 feet of wall space.
Arnie Fagan, former owner of Cool Stuff, recently loaned the artwork to the Ninth Street restaurant. After Fagan closed his novelty store in April, there were a few items he didn’t want to sell. They included beads, silver jewelry, ethnic carvings, fabrics and the mural, painted by Ned Vail. Before moving to Kansas City in 2003, Vail created a number of well-known murals, including one at MU’s Children’s Hospital.
Fagan says the piece was designed for Widmans, a bar and grill that used to sit at Sycamore’s current location. Many people living in Columbia who frequented Widmans probably remember the mural. Perhaps no one was more fascinated by it than Cory Hodapp.
Now a co-owner of The Rome, Hodapp came to MU in 1992 as an art major. He says he found himself staring at the painting when he visited the bar. Its style had an impact on his development as an artist, and he took a similar approach for a painting he did 10 years ago.
The mural at The Rome features a panoramic view of the state of Missouri with glimpses of iconic towns and cities between St. Louis and Kansas City. Its nature is both vibrant and whimsical. Bright swirls of green, yellow, red and blue complement the restaurant’s warm, rust-colored walls, evergreen vinyl booths and beige awnings.
During Cool Stuff’s final days, Hodapp went to see if the painting had been sold. It hadn’t, but Fagan wasn’t at the store. Hodapp got his chance when Fagan came to eat at The Rome, but the former Cool Stuff owner was hesitant because he considered the mural a personal treasure. Still, Fagan wanted the art to be displayed where it could be enjoyed by Columbians. Few establishments would be able to display the mural because of its size.
Hodapp envisioned the painting as a focal point in his space, and Fagan says that vision made it clear Hodapp would put it in a place of honor. So the two agreed that The Rome would house the mural. “I think this piece fits well in our restaurant,” Hodapp says. “It’s lighthearted and colorful, and it seems kind of organic.”
The successful arrangement with The Rome gives Fagan hope of finding homes for some other memorable pieces once displayed at his shop, such as an Indonesian bicycle rickshaw and a 63-passenger psychedelic school bus.