During our long gloomy winter and monsoon May, there was one spot in Forest Park where the sun was always shining: the mural at Submarine Tender (Desplaines & Randolph), which depicts the Greek island of Zakynthos. The idyllic painting, done by local artists Nikki Barron and Alicia Gomez, was commissioned by Sub-T owner John Liveris, to honor the island his father, Gregory, emigrated from. 

Zakynthos is quite a place. Homer mentioned it in his Iliad and Odyssey, as it was involved in the Trojan War. During WWII, it was occupied by the Nazis. The islanders hid the 275 Jewish residents from the Germans and they all survived the war. More recently, Zakynthos has become a coveted tourist destination.

Liveris not only wanted to honor his father’s birthplace. He also thought it was time to replace the outdated murals. Alicia and Nikki heard about his plan from an employee and approached Liveris about painting a mural. He gave them the green light and provided a photograph of Zakynthos along with the acrylic paint. He also paid them a modest fee. They began work in December 2017.

Alicia and Nikki proved to be a good team. Nikki is an expressive artist who used sponges, brushes and her hands to apply the paint. Alicia is a perfectionist and completed details with a small brush. They copied the photo exactly but added some boats to liven it up. They worked side by side and ate lots of fries. It took them seven one-hour sessions to complete the 89 x 60-inch mural of the island.

Nikki’s family came from a different island in Europe: Sicily. Her great-grandparents immigrated to Forest Park and duplicated a Sicilian village of their own. Four generations of her family lived on the 600 Block of Ferdinand. For Nikki, playing with her cousins was pure fun. Block parties became family reunions.

The best known members of the family were Jim and Virginia Papa, who were deeply involved in village life. Meanwhile, Nikki was growing up in town playing volleyball, basketball and baseball with her three brothers. She attended Garfield School and Forest Park Middle School and then joined her friend, Alicia, at Trinity High School.

Alicia was raised in River Forest but met Nikki at a softball game in seventh grade. During sophomore year at Trinity, Nikki suffered severe injuries in a bike accident. She switched from playing sports to producing art. Trinity’s art instructor, Pamela Costello, had a lasting influence on her, and she continues to paint abstracts, portraits and still lifes, several of which have sold.

The mural at Sub T is, of course, a landscape and both artists excel at this form. Alicia had actually been to Zakynthos, so she was inspired to capture its beauty. She was satisfied with how the mural turned out but wishes a gumball machine didn’t obscure a portion of the painting. 

Liveris was so thrilled by the work he commissioned Nikki and Alicia to replace the second mural on the wall. This time, they plan to paint a small village in Greece. Nikki wants to include a sunset. They are searching for the ideal image online and will begin painting it this summer.

Nikki feels a personal connection to Sub T because her family often dined there. It may look like a humble hot dog stand but the two artists have elevated it to an art gallery. Their mural literally lights up the place. 

So the next time you’re waiting for your gyros, or butter and garlic fries on a cold gloomy day, you can gaze upon Zakynthos and dream of eternal summer.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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