WPA-era murals to come down as CPS schools close

June 6, 2013 3:31:06 PM PDT
During the Great Depression, hundreds of public murals were created, and Chicago Public Schools has one of the country's largest collections.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) murals were created to provide economic relief to people who were suffering through the Depression. Now that dozens of Chicago public schools are closing, those murals are coming down.

At Trumbull School on the city's North Side, Christopher Columbus' voyage to the new world is depicted on the oil canvas murals. They were painted in 1913 for the public school in Andersonville. Trumbull will close, and that mural is coming down.

Originally, CPS planned to remove them on Thursday.

"Our immediate concern is we still have students in the school, 8th grade graduation, why are they in such a hurry to get these murals out of the building?" James Morgan, parent, said.

Now, CPS said it will wait until the school year ends.

Heather Becker, CEO of the Chicago Conservation Center, wrote about book about the 437 progressive era and New Deal or WPA murals in Chicago Public Schools buildings.

"They are meant to be public statements -- they were painted in many different styles, ,many different subject matters, so it's a very diverse collection," Becker said.

In the past, the Chicago Conservation Center restored many of the CPS paintings, as well as other WPA murals displayed in U.S. Post Offices. CPS has not given the center the contract to remove the paintings in Trumball and other closing schools because the murals were painted as site specific artwork. Becker is concerned about the removal and long-term plan.

"The important thing is the long-term care of these pieces, doing it slowly carefully and right," Becker said.

For the Trumball community, their hope is for the murals to stay in Andersonville.

"Our children are being sent outside our neighborhood, the least thing they can do is let us preserve a little bit of the school at the historical society," Morgan said.

CPS said the murals will be placed in protective storage at the end of the year until the district decides where to put them back on public display.

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