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Halo added to Joe Paterno's portrait on Heister Street mural

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Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 12:00 am

On a quiet street tucked in the heart of State College, Joe Paterno has earned his halo.

A halo around the head of the late former Penn State head football coach Paterno to honor his death is the latest addition to the mural titled "Inspiration," located on the wall of the Student Book Store, 330 E. College Ave.

The mural, which portrays more than 300 icons from Penn State and the State College community, has been updated many times over the years, but never so quickly, Michael Pilato, the artist that painted the mural, said.

"The past weekend was a really tough one for me," said Pilato. "Immediately after he passed, I knew I had to put the halo up."

The commemorative addition was painted about 24 hours after Paterno died.

Pilato, who has been doing murals since he was a little boy, first came up with the idea for the mural 13 years ago, as a tribute to the people who have impacted his life.

Once he found the spot that matched the size requirements, he had to get permission from the owners Fred and Jan Hurvitz.

"It was very clear what he wanted, and we thought it was a neat idea. It's all very tasteful," Jan Hurvitz said.

After starting with sketches, the project was painted in 1999 and 2000. People have requested to have certain people be painted, and in some cases are willing to pay, but Pilato said he only paints those who he thinks have impacted himself or State College in a significant way.

Halos to other deceased people in the mural have been added out of respect to their families over time, but Paterno's death had more of an impact since he was a family friend, Pilato said.

Pilato attended school with Paterno's children, and Pilato's mentor, William Schreyer, always spoke very highly of Paterno -- having a great impact on Pilato's perception of him, Pilato said.

"It was a tough couple of days, but I'm glad he didn't have to go through the pain anymore," Pilato said. "It was just so beautiful though how the whole community went out to support him and his family."

John Jarrett and his family were just a few of the mural observers since Paterno's death on Sunday. Jarrett came to visit the mural with his family in order to see it for the first time since a blue ribbon was painted in place of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky last fall. He also said he wanted to get a few pictures with his kids.

Jarrett said he believes Pilato should create a mural to commemorate Paterno, and that he does enjoy the mural alongside the bookstore.

"There are a lot of great people up there," he said.

Jarrett's children stood next to where Paterno was painted on the mural and smiled for the camera, while their dad took a picture.

While photos of Jarrett's children were being taken, Stephanie Bieber said that it has been a "tough weekend" for her and Jarrett's family. She expressed the loss of Bieber and Jarrett's daughter Courtney to leukemia in 2009.

It would have been Courtney's eighteenth birthday this past Friday.

While the loss of Paterno has been emotional for Bieber, she said she tries to retain an optimistic outlook at everything that has happened, both in her life and in the Penn State community.

"We hope he will be up there to welcome our daughter in open arms," Bieber said.

Pilato said he plans to paint another mural soon, similar to the one already downtown, where members of the State College community will nominate those who will be painted into the mural.

"The mural on the wall of the Student Book Store is much more personal since all the people in it mean something to me specifically," Pilato said. "My next mural is more for the community."

Many personal aspects of Pilato's life are intertwined with other aspects community members know on a grander scale, such as an image of Pilato's father fishing and listening to a radio in the reflection of one of Paterno's eyeglass lenses.

"The earliest memories I have are of fishing with my dad and listening to the Penn State games on the radio," Pilato said.

Pilato plans to do a print of Paterno and the halo, along with another painting of Paterno, with some of the proceeds from sales going to the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, a program Paterno and his wife Sue were involved with.

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