Tag Archives: chicago

Remembering Mireles

Sometimes I go out hunting for a particular mural and come across a different one that I didn’t even know existed.  That happened recently in the neighborhood of South Chicago at 91st and Commercial.

This mural was painted by South Chicago Art Center participants under the direction of Brother Mark Elder, a muralist and professor at DePaul University.  The team spent 2 years creating it, startingin 2007 and completing it in 2009.  


I love how the mural flow across the wall, creating a blend of patterns and figures.  Images include families, street cats and dogs, and a map of the city. 

I believe the figure below is Arnold Mireles, a neighborhood activist who photographed rundown buildings and drug activity and shared the images with police.  In 1997, a local slumlord hired 2 men who shot and killed Mireles for reporting the landlord to city officials.  Mireles was 35.  The men were convicted three years later in a complicated murder-for-hire trial.



The work includes several quotations across the top.  The Ghandi quote seems particularly powerful to me in the context of Mireles’ murder.

  Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life   —Pablo Picasso

  Education is the weapon which can change the world  —Nelson Mandela

  Forgiveness is the attitude of the strong  –Ghandi




Where are you coming from?  Where are you going?

Home after a hard day’s work…

or on a job hunt, trying to get married…?

In 1992, Olivia Gude asked people passing by the Metra underpass at 56th and Lake Park Ave these questions.  She incorporated their answers into Where We Come From…Where We’re Going.

Gude restored the mural in 2009, preserving this slice of Hyde Park oral history.

Where are YOU going?

New world

I’m guessing that many of you Chicagoans have seen this mural on the Holy Covenant United Methodist Church on Diversey and Wilton in Lincoln Park.  In fact, you can see it from the L platform nearby.

For a New World/Para un Nuevo Mundo was painted by John Pitman Weber and Oscar Martínez in 1973 and restored by Weber and Bernard Williams in 1996.  The mural is divided into 3 sections that correspond to the church’s worship service.

Pain, death and suffering is depicted at the far left.  This is Confession.

The middle section depicts The Word with images of love, light, and racial harmony.

Finally, the right panel depicts daily labor and working for justice as the Offering.

I love the substantial forms and the deep, bold colors in this mural.  It really leaps off the wall…all the way to the L, actually.


Last fall, I happened upon a new mural created by Yollocalli Arts Reach.  I posted about it and received an email from the staff — with a map to more of their work!

The first piece I’ve checked out is Libertad in Barrett Park at Cermak and Damen in Pilsen.  The mural covers the retaining wall that runs along the playground.  It features a variety of famous faces including Frida Kahlo, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.

As with the earlier mural I’d seen, Jesus “Chucho” Rodriguez led youth in creating this work.  It was part of a mural making class that also included an exploration of the history and tradition of mural making.

I love the mix of people that they youth chose to include.

I recognize Ghandi, Malcolm X and Emiliano Zapata.  Can anyone help me with the other guy?

Regal, old and new

Last year I went down to Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood with my friend V to check out several murals by Mitchell Caton.  My favorite was  Bright Moments, Memories of the Future, a mural painted at 79th and Stony Island by Caton and Calvin Jones.

The mural is on the west wall of a Moorish Revival building that has a long and somewhat complicated story.  The building opened as the Avalon Theater in 1927 and served the neighborhood until the late 1970s when it closed and then became a church.  It reopened as the New Regal Theater in 1987, taking its name from the demolished Regal Theater that had stood at 47th and King Drive in Bronzeville.

The old Regal Theater was the center of entertainment in African American Chicago from the 1920s until it was razed in 1973.  Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, and Duke Ellington performed regularly at the Regal, and Chicagoan Nat King Cole got his start there.

Caton and Jones painted the mural the year that the New Regal Theater opened, and it’s a who’s who of the legendary artists who performed at the old Regal in its heyday.  V proved herself that day as a mural hunting assistant extraordinaire as well as an expert on all things arts.  She picked out Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Moms Mabley and Nat King Cole…

…Stevie Wonder and Josephine Baker among many others.  I love how the artists leap off the mural, vibrant and energetic and literally larger than life.

And I love these little couples cutting a rug at the bottom of the mural.

The New Regal was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992 but closed again in 2003.  There’s talk of re-opening the theater as a culture venue, but for now it’s vacant.

Ordinary places

One of my favorite mural images continues to be the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Her presence brings beauty and a sense of the sacred to rather ordinary places.

Like the former St. Vitus Catholic Church at 18th and Paulina in Pilsen.

A body shop at 27th and Kedzie in Little Village.

Or the vacant industrial building at 21st and Carpenter in Pilsen.

Art and empanadas

Folklore is an Argentine restaurant at Division and Hoyne in Wicker Park with (a) fabulous food and (b) a fabulous mural.  I was really excited to discover the mural on the restaurant’s east wall after dinner with friends.  And I will admit to feeling fancy that I recognized the style as John Pitman Weber’s.

It turns out that Weber painted Unidos Para Triunfar/Together We Overcome in 1971, revised it in 1974, and restored it in 2004.  The center of the mural shows clasped brown and black hands.

On the right, the mural depicts youth fighting — showing the violent tension among black, Latino and white youth that was  flaring up when the mural was originally painted.

To the right, the mural shows a mix of people participating in a unity march.  The coffin was added as part of the 1974 revision — a reference to the police killing of a Puerto Rican youth in 1973.

The marchers carry a Puerto Rican flag and signs calling for decent housing, justice, and unity.

The sign in Spanish reads:  Defense of the community, from one generation to the next.  The struggle continues.