WAYNE, Neb. -- When Melanie Loggins spelled out parameters for a mural to be painted in the main lobby of Wayne's Majestic Theatre, she left it pretty wide open to the artists' imaginations.
No faces. Nothing involving film reels or film strips. And an urban, sophisticated vibe rather than a rural feel.
Other than that, the 11 students in Wayne State College assistant art education professor Carolyn Albracht's multicultural art class had few restrictions.
"We were looking for urban, sophisticated, sarcastic, maybe a little cheeky. We had no idea what they were going to come back with," said Loggins, coordinator of the nonprofit movie theater that opened in late 2010 on Wayne's Main Street after the community raised thousands of dollars to refurbish the building after the previous movie theater had closed two years earlier.
The desire for sarcasm appealed to Cole Beebe. Sophistication, in his mind, was no challenge either.
"I immediately being my jokester self thought about poultry," said the senior art education major from Schuyler, Nebraska. "For me, it was a no-brainer putting suits on a couple roosters."
The result is a colorful, more-than-lifesize painting of two human bodies with chicken heads dressed in suits sitting in a movie theater (each while holding a tub of popcorn, of course).
It's an attention-grabbing piece that makes you chuckle when you see it, but also makes you wonder what these two characters are doing there.
Home of the annual Wayne Chicken Show, the city and chickens have become synonymous. But a mural including chickens wasn't what Loggins initially had in mind.
"At first we resisted chickens. Wayne is more than that," Loggins said.
When the students submitted their ideas, all of them contained chickens, Loggins said. She asked them to go back to the drawing board. Even so, Beebe's first submission, which turned out to be the winner, had attracted Loggins' attention.
After a new batch of submissions was reviewed, the theater's board of directors unanimously settled on Beebe's initial design. The suit-wearing chickens were in.
And Loggins couldn't be happier with the chickens she's named Williams and Morricone after film composers John Williams ("Star Wars") and Ennio Morricone ("A Fistful of Dollars" and other spaghetti westerns).
"I think of these chickens as characters now," she said. "They are part of our home now."
That feeling of home is an idea Albracht asks her students to pursue as part of the multicultural art class, which is offered every two years and includes creating a public mural as part of a service learning project. Before you can paint a mural in a community, you've first got to study its culture, Albracht said, and understand its history in order to create public art that fits in with the community.
Beebe's winning design does just that, and it hit him after the students first met with Loggins early in the semester, toured the theater and heard the board's vision for the blank wall in the lobby.
Beebe didn't want a rural-looking design either, and he liked that the board was OK if it was a little less than serious. After spending nearly four years as a student in Wayne, he understood what kind of painting might click with the community.
"Just having chickens at the movie theater. Yeah, it's Wayne. It's chickens," he said. "I dressed them up to give it class."
When Beebe and the other students began painting the mural in March, Loggins kept plastic in the windows and over the wall so it would be a surprise to the public. Since the April 3 unveiling, Loggins said the mural gets a lot of second looks from moviegoers. She loves that the chickens in the mural appear less than interested in anyone who might be looking at them.
"The fact they are not looking at us is the final straw," Loggins said.
Beebe said that at the mural's unveiling, he was happy that everyone saw the humor in it. The smiles he saw has him thinking that he'd like to do similar projects in the future when he's teaching art to elementary and high school students.
"It would be great to show them how they belong in their community," he said.
Just as chickens belong in a movie theater -- in Wayne anyway.