Tag Archives: williamwalker

Cabrini

The start of spring has inspired me to get out mural hunting.  And talking to my friends B and R about Cabrini Green has inspired me to post this mural in particular.

All of Mankind is one of 3 murals by William Walker that still exists in Chicago.  He painted it in 1972 on a building that was then the San Marcello Mission church and stood at the edge of the growing Cabrini-Green public housing development.    The church has been for sale for quite a while and is expected to be demolished as redevelopment continues in the area.  But last summer, my friend M and I found it still standing on West Evergreen near Stanton Park.

Like much of Walker’s work, the mural considers themes of racial harmony, civil rights, and cultural respect.  The center window features 4 children representing different races.  Their faces are interconnected, a motif in several of Walker’s murals.

Above the children, you can still make out the names of Jesus, Anne Frank, Malcolm X and Dr. King.  Historic photos show that the border above the names originally read “Why were they crucified”.

Faces peer up from the sides…

and two children of different races share a meal at the bottom.

A group of Chicagoans has come together to protect the 1901 church and preserve Walker’s mural.  Lots of great information (and old photos!) is available from the Chicago Public Art Group.

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Walker and the Wall

As I’ve been hunting murals around Chicago, I’ve become really interested in how the community mural movement here got started.  Community muralism is different from other movements (such as Mexican muralism and the WPA mural work) because it typically isn’t sponsored  by the government.  Instead, the artist and the community work together to create art that is “owned” by the community.  Neighborhood residents often participate  in selecting themes and actually painting the pieces.  Community muralism arose from the social movements of the 1960s and sought to bring art out of the museums and onto the streets.

I associate community muralism with the Mexican American artists who work in Pilsen and Little Village.  But to my surprise, it turns out that the community mural movement in Chicago — and the entire US — can be traced back to African American artists in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

In 1967, members of the Visual Arts Workshop of the Organization for Black American Culture began to paint on a dilapidated building at 43rd and Langely.  The building was slated for demolition as part of an urban renewal project, but the 21 artists transformed it into The Wall of Respect.  The Wall featured 50 portraits of notable African Americans.  “The Wall was created to Honor our Black Heroes, and to Beautify our Community,” read the inscription.  William Walker was the only artist with formal training, and he emerged as a leader of the project.

The Wall quickly became a landmark — it was a rallying point for neighborhood residents, and it drew visitors from across the country.  Artists began to create similar walls in other communities.  As a result, the Wall became an obstacle for city government’s urban renewal plans.  In 1969 and 1970 mass rallies forced the city to delay the scheduled demolition of the building.  Finally, in 1971, a fire of “unknown origin” burned the building to the ground.  Fortunately, the Block Museum at Northwestern University offers an incredible interactive website that re-creates the Wall online.

In 1970 Walker and John Weber founded the Chicago Mural Group, joining with Mexican muralists and other artists to form a multiracial artists’ cooperative.  The group continues today as the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG). Walker is now in his 80s and still lives in Bronzeville.  Recently I set out with my friend M to look for the three Walker murals I had heard still existed.  And we ended up finding four!

Walker painted History of the Packinghouse Worker in 1974 on the side of a union office at 49th and Wabash in Bronzeville.  The building  is now owned by the Chicago Housing Authority, and they commissioned a beautiful restoration by CPAG in 1998.

On the left side, workers confront their bosses atop a chessboard:

The right side features images of  men at work in the packing house:

The piece reflects Diego Rivera’s work in both its style and subject matter.  In a 2005 Chicago Reader article, mural historian Jim Prigoff commented, “I consider Bill Walker the Diego Rivera of the United States.”  Viewing this mural, I can certainly see why.