While in State College this past weekend I had the chance to see muralist Michael Pilato‘s latest work. It appears above Panera Bread in downtown State College at the intersection of Beaver Ave. and Allen St. and was commissioned by the building owners with the purpose of depicting scenes relevant to local life. It’s a beautiful addition to downtown, and it’s especially special for me.
While living in State College in 2009, I would often work from my office in the building across the street. It had great views of both Allen Street and Beaver Avenue, and from my second floor window could even see Old Main peaking out over the trees of campus. It was my habit to keep the windows open during warm evenings, and the frequent creak and groan of Panera’s front door still echoes in my memory. The scene above was what I would see from that office window—except that blank wall is a lot more beautiful to look upon now.
It was in this same office that I jotted down the first legal-pad notes outlining the concept for a book on the local folklore and American Indian legends specific to the Nittany Valley first published in various places more than a century ago by Henry W. Shoemaker. It was in looking out the windows of that office that the first rough plans for presenting the legendary stories of Princess Nittany, Lion’s Paw, King Wi-Daagh, and other narratives like the story of Grandfather Pine and the Stream of Never Ending Love became a definite plan.
Those plans for publishing a book assembling these stories for contemporary readers remained in limbo due to a lack of corporate infrastructure and prohibitive cost. But with the formation of The Nittany Valley Society in 2012, along with the rapid democratization of publishing with services like Amazon’s CreateSpace, the Kindle, and the iPad, the book first planned in that office came to fruition earlier this year in the form of The Legends of the Nittany Valley.
Seeing Michael Pilato’s mural above Panera brings back all those memories and hopes of just a few years ago, and I’m still sort of amazed that we’ve been able to realize our hopes for the book so soon. But even beyond personal nostalgia, what makes this new mural especially special for me is its subject matter—because it features scenes from the folklore of our area, and specifically depicts the same legendary origin story of Princess Nittany and Mount Nittany that are told in The Legends of the Nittany Valley. It’s Princess Nittany who can be seen in the below mural photo.
If I could have known that the blank wall I would stare out upon when dreaming of a book telling these stories would itself in just three years start telling those same stories, I doubt I would have believed it. Yet here it is, and I can’t help but marvel at the magic of the coincidence.