Mural in downtown Anderson to capture barrier-breaking bond

The artist bringing a mural of Anderson legends Carl Erskine and Johnny Wilson to life, Pamela Bliss, is no stranger to painting larger-than-life portraits of legendary Hoosiers.

She has completed murals of such Indiana greats as Pacers star Reggie Miller, author Kurt Vonnegut and musician John Mellencamp.

The mural of Erskine and Wilson was originally to be painted on the back of the city-owned State Theatre building, but that wall needed too much repair to be feasible for the project, according to local funeral home director Rob Loose, who has spearheaded efforts to raise funds for the mural.

In stepped the L.J. Mechem family, who own the LM Products building (formerly Montgomery Ward department store and later home of Lambert’s Music Center) at 1325 Meridian St. in downtown Anderson. The Mechem family approved use of the building’s three-story wall facing East 14th Street.

Erskine grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s in a home along 14th Street, and he and Wilson played ball in an alley off that street, helping form a lifelong bond that crossed racial barriers deeply ingrained in society at the time.

Erskine and Wilson both went on to storied athletic exploits and successful careers.

The latter scored a state-record 30 points in leading Anderson High School to the 1946 basketball state championship. He also starred in track and field at AHS and went on to have an outstanding career in multiple sports at Anderson College. Later, Wilson played for the Harlem Globetrotters and Negro League baseball.

Erskine pitched for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, throwing two no-hitters and setting a World Series record for strikeouts in a game. In the summer of 2023, the National Baseball Hall of Fame honored him with the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to baseball and community, specifically his efforts to promote racial equity and opportunities for people living with disabilities.

Loose noted that the mural at 14th Street will commemorate the unlikely brotherhood between two childhood friends who grew up to become role models for embracing the ideals of inclusion and diversity.

The mural will be completed by the end of October, according to Bliss. A public dedication of the mural will follow, Loose noted.

The plan for a large mural honoring Wilson and Erskine was revealed at the world premiere of the documentary “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” in August 2022 at the Paramount Theatre in downtown.

Documentary producer Ted Green had suggested that Bliss be commissioned to paint a mural of Erskine, who asked that Wilson be included in the painting.

Erskine, who is 96 years old, lives in Anderson with his wife Betty. Wilson died in 2019 at the age of 91.

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.