The article below was written by Tom Powell for Amusement Business. I fear that it may be deleted soon, so I wanted to post it online for historic purposes.
Bill “The Brush” Browning believes lots of people can paint, but if you don’t know what to paint, it doesn’t mean a thing.
“It’s the creative part I like. I would never want to do somebody’s advertising layouts,” said Browning. The native of Scranton, Pa., who will be 69 Dec. 28, is the artist responsible for the colorful and descriptive murals all over the bars of the International Independent Showmen’s Foundation club here.
Over the years, Browning has painted six fronts on the Showtown USA bar and restaurant in Gibsonton, first for Andy and Ethel Osak, both of whom are now deceased. He continues to do work for the Osak’s son, Chuck, who now operates the facility.
“He has created unbelievable scenes that leave people in awe,” said Osak. One of his murals changes from day to night. Another shows a little old lady in a rocking chair, reading her AB. He is currently doing murals in Chuck’s office.
When the Gibtown club decided to build a new bar for this year’s Feb. 5-10 trade show and extravaganza, they gave Browning free reign on creativity.
He said it is a continuous one mural segment divided into 12 different areas. “They left it up to me until they got back off the road. I had no restrictions,” said Browning.
“I did all my little tricks. The same water, like the ocean, is a continuous theme that goes from the murals in the Coconut Bar to those in the new bar. I had fun with the corners, creating illusions.”
Browning said his theme moved from winter time in Florida in the Coconut bar to summer scenes along piers in the Northeast in the new bar.
At the entrance to Coconut’s, where Allied Specialty Insurance has a permanent office, his first scene shows an exact depiction of the Paul “Duke” Smith-owned Allied building in Treasure Island, Fla. It has palm trees and an old man standing by and reading a copy of AB.
Of the scenes at the Gibtown bar, Browning said his favorite is the stone walls by a candy store in a corner. “That’s a good illusion, with awnings.”
Women throughout the trade show were bending to get into the women’s restroom because he made the door look shorter than it actually was. Those in the know sat back and laughed.
He said the job took quite a while and he was paid well for it. “I like the sightlines of the 1950s ice cream parlor by the beach, one of my favorites.”
Browning said he uses acrylic flat paint so there are no reflections or glares from spotlights. “That kind of thing kills the illusion,” he said. “The club put floodlights and pin spots where I wanted accents.”
He said he buys only six different colors of paints. “It’s like four color ads in magazine. I get lots of colors from them.” At the Gibtown club, he said Wilbur Cooke, new president, wanted him to do a mural of a girl show, “because that’s how he got started in the business.
“That got voted down because there would be children present so I went to a Hawaiian Revue, which is nice, clean and neat, an illusion that works. At first they wanted me to go into the meeting rooms, but I didn’t because of costs.
“I started to do one going from daytime to nighttime, like at Showtown, but I would have had to do it twice to get the effect. I would have done a complete old-time carnival. Maybe that’s in the future.”
Browning has been one of the most respected show painters in the business. Bobby Myers of Myers International Midways said, “If he ever retired, I’d have to. I’d never be able to find anybody who could paint as well as he does. He does excellent work, the best.”
Browning has painted for many carnivals, including Strates Shows, for whom he did their nostalgic ads and posters; Cumberland Valley Shows; Bill Hames Shows; Royal American Shows; and S&S Amusements.
“I guess I’ve painted for just about anybody you can think of. I have a big job for Mark Fanelli this summer, doing books and posters. I like that because I don’t need a scaffold,” said Browning.
Ironically, he flunked art class in eighth grade at Scranton Tech High School and went on to quit school. “My teacher, Mrs. Thomas, wanted me to do the same as the rest of the class. I didn’t flunk because I didn’t have the talent.”
He and his wife, Linda, have a daughter, also named Linda, 16. “She’s my pride and joy, a painter and very creative.”
Browning’s first job in the business was with L.I. Thomas Shows after working at a park in Miami. “A lot of carnival people wintered in Miami. I heard there were a lot of show people there and show people to me meant Gary Cooper. I found I had a lot to learn.”
Browning said he’s phasing out of the carnival business and is currently creating a giant mural at Yoder’s, an Amish restaurant in Sarasota, Fla. “They stand outside 50 deep watching me work. It’s incredible.”
He’s also working with an old friend from Chinchilla, Pa., Stanley Hoynitski, who owns car auction lots and golf resorts.
Pictures of Showtown USA: http://ninjapimp.com/?p=1927