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Frank Gray

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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
The mural painted by Jafet Garcia at Wolf mattress factory is a modeled on an old company photograph.

Muralist just one more job for him

– and a pretty good mural, at that – is what first brought Jafet Garcia to my attention.

But the back story that started with a fast-food sandwich is what makes it interesting and led a high school student to become a jack-of-all-trades and artist at one of the oldest businesses in Indiana.

It seems that Garcia, who graduated from New Haven High School about two weeks ago, likes something called a Sausage McGriddle, a sort of sausage on French toast sandwich. He’ll drop by McDonald’s and get one every couple of weeks.

One day last year he was having one of the sandwiches when he said he “randomly saw these three guys coming toward me, and they were all smiling.”

The men asked him whether he had a brother who worked at the Wolf mattress factory, because he looked just like him. Indeed, Garcia’s brother, Gerson, does work there.

Well, the men told him, if he’s as good a worker as his brother they might be interested in offering him a job.

Garcia applied for a job and was hired to work in the burn lab, where he tested materials used to make mattresses to make sure they were fire resistant.

As with any business, though, different departments find themselves in need of an extra set of hands from time to time, so Garcia, who continued to work part time through the school year, helped out in the shipping department. Then he filled in for a man on vacation and did futon building.

They put him to work taking inventory and entering it into the company computer. One day a higher-up mentioned that the company website was down, so they put Garcia to work on that, and he redesigned the site. Now Garcia, who was born here but whose family is from Guatemala, is translating it into Spanish.

He helped out on deliveries, was put to work in customer service, and was even assigned to create a list, with photographs, of all the company’s assets.

Then one day, company officials started talking about the appearance of the plant. The business has warehouse sales from time to time, and they wondered what could be done to make the place a little more decorative. One person suggested painting the company’s logo on the wall, but someone else said it would be better if they could create a mural from a turn-of-the-century photo that the company used in its promotions.

But who could paint a mural?

Well, someone piped up, he had looked at Garcia’s Facebook page when they hired him – companies do that these days – and he’s an artist.

So company officials asked the fire-tester-futon-building-translator-inventory specialist whether he’d be interested in producing a mural for the company.

Sure, Garcia said, and for about two months he worked on Saturdays, creating the piece.

Most of us know what murals look like. There’s The Last Supper and then there are amateurish sketches on the sides of buildings in small Midwestern towns. Garcia’s work was a strikingly authentic representation, 17 feet long, of that photo from about 1900.

It was good enough that when one Wolf family member in his 90s visited to see the mural, he actually returned to his car and insisted his wife come in to see it, too.

Garcia isn’t getting a big head about it, though he’s obviously pleased with people’s reactions to his work. “I liked it (the photo) because it was historical fact,” Garcia said. “It’s just a cool picture. Good composition.”

This fall Garcia will be attending Manchester University in North Manchester, where he will study biochemistry with an eye to attending medical school. But he’ll take art classes, too.

That’s an interesting mix, I told him, medicine and art.

Well, he said, there is such a thing as a medical illustrator, and he might pursue that. It takes only two years of graduate school, and because of all the computer apps being designed for medical students, there’s a lot of demand for medical illustrators.

Just think, I told him, if he hadn’t stopped for a Sausage McGriddle that day, he’d be unemployed.

No, he said, he’d probably be working at McDonald’s. That’s where all his friends work.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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