Have you heard about the Riley Literary Trail? This Indiana Stellar Communities project is set to bring even more cultural awareness to the literary history and town heritage that Greenfield is known for. One aspect of the trail is a set of four murals that usher visitors and residents into Greenfield from all four directions, and the third downtown mural, a tribute to local writer James Whitcomb Riley, has been completed this month by Hoosier artist Pam Bliss. 

The genesis of the Riley Literary Trail

The idea for the Riley Literary Trail began with the City of Greenfield’s plans for downtown revitalization, dating back to 2011. As the plan expanded, the city applied for a Stellar Communities designation with the state of Indiana, which provides grant funding for major projects from agencies such as the Department of Transportation, Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority and the Indiana Department of Health, among others. 

The Riley Literary Trail has become the premier Stellar project for downtown revitalization, with a path running from the Pennsy Trail north on Riley Avenue to the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home, through the Living Alley to North Street, along American Legion Place past the Courthouse, and then back to the Pennsy Trail. It is scheduled to be completed in 2023. 

Incorporating art and culture into the trail

As the trail connects a variety of Greenfield heritage sites, it will highlight the cultural and literary impacts that the city has made. “We want to bring out bits of our history that help people remember how Greenfield came to be,” said Greenfield Planning Director Joanie Fitzwater. “Features that will tell the stories of all of this historic and significant architecture, and the people behind creating our city so that we can remember what happened. Those are all things that help people call a place home.”

Alongside educational placards and cultural markers, the city is also featuring both long-term and rotating art installments on the trail. The first mural to be added was “A Barefoot Boy,” on the west entrance to downtown. Based on a James Whitcomb Riley poem of the same name, it was completed in 2018 by artist Andrew Hem from Los Angeles. 

The latest downtown murals and their artist

The next two murals were completed by the same local Indianapolis artist, Pam Bliss. The first was “Tall Tales” on the east side of Greenfield, just completed earlier this summer. And the newest downtown mural on the north side is a portrait of James Whitcomb Riley with verses from his “Wet Weather Talk” poem, which took approximately two weeks in November to complete. 

Bliss is being celebrated for her second Greenfield mural with an artist reception hosted by Hancock County Arts, with a viewing of the mural and an artist meet and greet conveniently located just across the street at HCA’s Twenty North Gallery. 

“Every time I go into a town I think about what asset the town has that sets it apart,” said Bliss to the Greenfield Daily Reporter, “And for Greenfield, it’s James Whitcomb Riley.” Bliss has completed a number of large-scale historical and diversity murals, both interior and exterior, throughout Central Indiana. She also works on canvas-sized paintings, with subject matter including figures, landscapes and architecture. 

Future downtown mural on the trail

The fourth and final downtown mural, welcoming visitors from the south, is planned for American Legion Place, facing the Hancock County prosecutor’s office. A third artist will complete this mural, which will embody the theme of the Literary Trail as a bookshelf filled with books. As the trail continues to be built, Fitzwater looks forward to getting more input from local residents and business owners. “We want to know what they want to see, and what they know that we don’t,” she said. “So that we can showcase our cultural heritage along the trail.” 

[Photo credit: Tom Russo of Greenfield Daily Reporter]