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The Michelangelo of Mount Royal Tavern

Juxtapositions explores the replicated Michelangelo mural in the Mount Royal Tavern

Posted 11.01.13 by mica communications

Photo by Anne Gummerson ’75 (photography).

A few years after Joe Helms '91 (painting) graduated from MICA , he was sitting in Mount Royal Tavern having drinks with a friend when he glanced up at the room's cavernous ceiling and mused, "You could paint the Sistine Chapel in here."

His spontaneous thought led Helms to approach the owners of the tavern with a proposal to paint and install a replica of Michelangelo's famous mural.

To his surprise, the owners agreed. But they had one stipulation: the ceiling had to be finished in time for Artscape, the nation's largest free arts festival that takes place on MICA's campus just outside the tavern, which was only two and a half months away.

It was a daunting task-especially when considering it took years for Michelangelo to paint frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel-but Helms was up for the challenge.

"This was before the Internet," Helms said. "This was done at a time when the real Sistine Chapel was being restored. So there were a few books out with images of parts of the ceiling, but not the whole thing. I spent hours and hours in the library trying to find images, looking through stacks of magazines trying to piece it together."

Helms painted the replica on canvas and, with the help of tavern employees, put it on the ceiling just in time for Artscape.

"It really had an impact on my career," Helms said, explaining the creation of the mural led to commissions at the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the National Aquarium, Baltimore, among many others.

Over the past two decades, Helms has produced close to a thousand murals and custom pieces, including commissions from museums, restaurants, stadiums, hospitals, and private residences.

"The funny thing was not long after I was done, the restoration on the real Sistine Chapel ceiling was finished," said Helms, looking back. "Suddenly there were books everywhere with pictures of the entire ceiling. A few things in the replica, minor details like hand positions were off, but I was really close."

Helms now lives with his wife and three sons in South Carolina. When he's not exhibiting in gallery shows, he continues to produce custom murals, portraits, and fine art commissions.

Image caption: Photo by Anne Gummerson '75 (photography).