I don’t know the history of the murals under the 55th/Lake Park overpass, but I’m under the impression that they predate my 1979 arrival in Hyde Park by a couple of years. They may have been relatively new and fresh, but even then they struck me as depressing and disturbing. I’ve never read the narrative in its entirety, but “butcher’s hooks” still sticks with me. The people pictured, many contorted with their heads thrown back, look tortured to me, as though their creator were a contemporary if less fantastic Hieronymus Bosch.
I understand that for some time there had been a search for the artist. With so much information online, you’d think she’d be easy to find, but not so. At long last, however, it seems that she turned up. I saw her, or someone, refreshing the mural at the northeast end of the overpass. Later, as winter approached, a handwritten paper sign appeared with thanks to the neighborhood and a promise to return. Sadly, by season’s end the sign had weathered the winter better than the mural, its bright, touched-up sections already streaked from the melting snow, rain, and dampness. As others have noted, while the idea of viaduct murals seems like an attractive addition to urban life, their practicality is another matter.
Even later, toward the southwest portion, large sheets of steel imprinted with black-and-white and colorful artwork were bolted up around the entrance steps to Metra. I also spotted a young man working on the uncovered southwest end of the mural, which for now looks like new.
So the viaduct’s walls are currently a mishmash of restored, faded, and, in places, obliterated mural and spanking new sponsored sheet metal print art, all without any explanation.
It keeps us coming back to find out what’s next.
Update: Here’s part of the story of the murals from the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference site. The murals on the north and south sides are different. The south side mural, the more fascinating to me, is pictured.
Caryl Yasko is redoing one panel of Under City Stone on 55th this year — more will follow next, more money is being raised. Note that there was improper grouting allowing continued water seepage. This is the mural that uses James Agee’s poem (by permission). Most will be redone in oil as per the original. Pulling together contributions and in-kinds is Mary Guggenheim. Heritage Foundation’s Rescue Public Murals initiative is involved. Hundreds are helping. Can send contributions c/o CPAG, 1259 S. Wabash, 60605, 708 655-8919 or email@example.com. Yasko writes:
Yasko first painted “Under City Stone” in 1972. The name of the mural comes from the James Agee poem “Rapid Transit” which runs the length of the north side of the 55th Street underpass. It was one of the Chicago Mural Group’s first projects. Funding came from the National Endowment for the Arts, Hyde Park Merchants Association, and citizen donors. With funding from the South East Chicago Commission and Chicago Public Arts Group, we are restoring one of the murals’ 13 sections. Contingent on funding and support from you, we will restore the remaining sections in summer and early fall 2009.
Mural on the south side of of 55th has undergone some restoration by Damon Lamar Reed, and work continues along with column restoration on 56th south side.