A colorful celebration of life covers the walls. Recognizable faces from the community join with eight famous entertainers and sports figures to dance, drink, play cards, read the racing results, and otherwise enjoy themselves. Gentle dogs sleep under tables or gaze about alertly, as a naughty monk flirts with a willing lady. A Scottish river flows past a Belgian mansion and a snow-capped Alpine mountain, with Heidelberg, Germany, nestled at its foot, overlooked by a French castle. An angel statue stands on the cliff.
Where are we?
It’s the banquet room or G’Suffa Haus of the Albany Bowling Center, and it all started one sleepless night for long-time owner Steve Bates. As the evocative theme music of Cheers played, pictures of drinking establishments and their patrons of long ago morphed into a modern setting for Sam and Norm and the rest of the cast.
“I thought it would be cool that those characters could be in Old World settings,” Steve said. And he had some very long, plain walls in his banquet room. A few conversations later with cousin Sean Sullivan, an art major, a plan literally took shape. At first they thought that Sean would rough out the scenes and a local artist would fill them in. But it became more Sean’s baby as the project went on.
“Sean was very clever about how he wanted to execute it,” Steve said. “He wanted to have it in 3-D, so the people in the foreground were bigger.” The solution was to have all fifty of the local people depicted pose as they were to be, as Sean took Polaroids. The result went on an overhead projector, which could be maneuvered backward and forward until the pictures fit the scene.
The eight celebrities, some of Steve’s favorites, were not asked to pose, but were added anyway. Isiah Thomas lifts a stein, Carlos Santana, Mark Knopfler and James Taylor play their instruments, and Bud Grant and Tom Kelly generally look athletic. Woody Harrelson (a tribute to Cheers) and Bill Murray look ready to indulge in some 17th-century variation of ninepins. Steve’s family members are represented in various symbolic ways; the angel statue remembers his brother Jeffrey. who died young. Steve’s parents loved to dance, so they kick up their heels in one panel. In another, a local couple still flirtatious in their later years, carry on, even though one is depicted as a monk. Steve’s bowling team don’t actually bowl, but they do play cards. Steve is there himself, in a burgundy hat, his faithful dog Carlos at his feet.
Sean’s and Steve’s inspiration was old masters paintings in general and specifically the genre scenes painted by Jan Steen, a prolific 17th century artist. His works are known for psychological insight, sense of humor, and lavish color. In fact, several Steen reproductions hang on the other side of the room, showing scenes of merry people bowling, falling down drunk (the artist himself, actually) and other aspects of village life. A little boy and a Brittany spaniel were taken from the paintings and went directly to the wall.
“Sports, song, and comedy,” Steve said. “We’re celebrating life.” He picked the name G’Suffa for the room from the annual celebration held in Albany in the 1960s and early ‘70’s.
“I like the spirit of it. It means cheers, or a toast. I had a hard time coming up with a name for the mural, because it has so many meanings, but I liked the idea of celebrating life.”
The mountain landscape appeared on the wall in 2001, with the happy celebrants arriving in 2004. Touch-ups followed in 2007 and clever sayings (Since I read about the evils of drinking beer, I gave up reading) in 2008. Sean’s medium was durable Sherwin Williams interior and exterior paint.
Things aren’t the way they used to be and probably never was.
Needless to say, new visitors, and even those not so new to G’Suffa Haus are stunned by what they see. Steve, who has been in his family’s bowling and hospitality business since he was 12 years old, says, “I love it when people get into it. When Sean said he could do this, it was like a dream come true.”