Painted paradise: Bob Nolan's 'rainforest' is going to the birds

November 13, 2010 9:56:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


When Bob Nolan asks his current "clients" how they like the paint job he''s doing, and gets a chorus of squawks in response, he takes it as a compliment. 


At the request of Dr. James and Celeta Holzhauer, the Columbus artist is creating an exotic rainforest room for a vocal flock of macaws, parrots, a cockatiel and cockatoo in the family''s circa 1902 Greek Revival home named Highland House. During renovation of the 9,000-square foot mansion near downtown Columbus, the Holzhauers decided their beloved birds should have a new domain -- one that fits their heritage, the verdant, dense rainforests of Central and South America.  


"Since we couldn''t take them back to the rainforest, we decided to try to bring a little of the rainforest to them," smiled Celeta. She had admired Nolan''s Italian mural painted inside CJ''s Restaurant in Columbus and knew he could transform the house''s enclosed back porch into a vivid environment for the feathered friends. 




Setting the scene 


"The rainforest was really a different project," said the artist, a Cleveland, Ohio, native who originally moved to the Golden Triangle with Flexible Flyer, to design toys. 


Armed first with a book Celeta had of rainforest photographs, Nolan then assessed the approximate 430-square foot L-shaped space with soaring ceilings and visualized the motif.  


"I wanted to give it a skyline, with lots of ferns, trees, waterfalls and flowers," he explained. "I just hashed it over in my mind and laid it out." 


The first step was preparing the canvas, so to speak, steps it''s so necessary to do well. "A lot of your project is just getting started," he acknowledged. 


After painting walls a uniform gray as a background, Nolan began with a framework of tree trunks and limbs that extended onto the ceiling. Then, using a combination of air brush, paint brushes and a modified air gun he devised himself, he filled the walls with lush ferns, palms and exotic flowering plants. Blue waterfalls cascade at intervals. 


"I wanted this to be a focal point," he said, indicating the largest waterfall, crowned by a radiant sun and plummeting to the blue-gray tile floor in a frothy foam. Celeta selected the tile color for its resemblance to water. 


Nolan incorporated the multiple windows and doors. Windows along one wall have been painted into the scene. The opposite wall of windows looks out onto a new solarium. 


The project is nearing completion. The birds, currently housed in an adjoining room, will take up residence soon, with their roomy cages. For now, they serenade Nolan -- as only macaws and parrots can -- while he works. 


Admiring the back porch metamorphosis, Celeta remarked, "It''s really beautiful when the natural sunlight hits it and picks up all the colors. It''s exceeded our expectations." Peaches, a magnificent macaw appropriately named for its pale sherbet color, sits on her arm and apparently agrees. He emits a remarkably human-like laugh. The rescue bird from Hurricane Katrina was adopted by the Holzhauers when the former owner, a Columbus Air Force Base major, had to move. 




Avian community 


Several of the other birds -- which include Wilbur Berry, Scarlett, Cassie (formerly Casanova, before blood-typing revealed he was a she), Jodie and Jordan -- have also been adopted from former homes. 


And then there''s Ollie. At 20, he''s the senior citizen, and the "smartest cat in the house," chuckled Celeta. The African gray parrot is the alpha bird of the Holzhauer''s aviary.  


"Jim had Ollie when we got married, and I just fell in love with him," admitted Celeta. "He''s so intelligent. He even speaks German." 


Her husband bragged on Ollie, too. "He mimics perfectly; he can sound just like me, or Celeta, or the smoke alarm or the telephone," he smiled. 




Leaving a mark 


For Nolan, the rainforest room has become one of his favorite projects, and he''s had plenty.  


His 1930s-era movie house tableau in Starkville''s Hollywood Premier Cinema, his ocean-going mural at Oyster Bay Restaurant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and his Columbus landmarks mural at Cafe on Main are seen by hundreds of people daily.  


At Hollywood Premier, Nolan''s "John Travolta," in his "Saturday Night Fever" disco pose, is a nod to the theater owners'' first date, which was to see the 1977 movie. The same couple, after acquiring a vintage billiard table for their home, had the self-taught artist paint the setting to resemble an "old-fashioned Victorian room."  


The former toymaker created a multi-room wonderland at a daycare facility in Columbus, has an Italian cafe scene at Aurora Australis Health and Rehabilitation, wall murals on the Gulf Coast, and has even been asked to add his special touch to a guitar or two in Nashville, Tenn., where his singer/songwriter daughter, DesirĂ©, has moved to record.  


Nolan also recently mounted an exhibit of framed art at a Nashville gallery. One of his next projects is a church baptistery. No project seems to be beyond his imagination. 


But for now, there are finishing touches to add to the rainforest, like extending the jungle onto the window casings, blending the acrylic flora with the view of greenery outside. Even if Peaches, Ollie and friends can''t appreciate the detail Bob Nolan wants to bring to this unique environ, the Holzhauers do. 


"We never thought the back porch would be our favorite room in the house, but it''s beautiful," said Celeta. "With the rainforest room out here now, I think this house is surely smiling."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.