CPS restores historic murals removed from closed schools

Some Chicago Public Schools students got a look at the extensive work that's being done to restore murals that have decorated some school buildings for years.

November 15, 2013 6:40:23 AM PST
Some Chicago Public Schools students got a look at the extensive work that's being done to restore murals that have decorated some school buildings for years.

When CPS closed 50 schools last spring, there was great concern about what would happen to dozens of WPA or Progressive Era murals. CPS is in the process of restoring most of them, with the goal of fitting the paintings in some of the receiving schools. One South Side school is using the process as a classroom lesson.

It's detailed work. Restoring art takes time and money, but in this case, it's about preserving a big piece of Chicago Public Schools' history.

"It's very important, because it's part of Wentworth history, you wouldn't just throw away history like that," said Gabrielle Green, CPS student.

The now-closed Wentworth Elementary in Englewood was home to dozens of Progressive Era and WPA murals. While they were painted specifically for that school, CPS is paying Parma Conservation to remove, restore and fit as many paintings at Wentworth's new location.

"The most important part of the process is preventative to make sure no damage is done to the murals," said Elizabeth Kendall, Parma Conservation.

Because the murals were glued to the walls, the most time-consuming part of the restoration process is removing the debris and plaster from the back of the murals. On Thursday, Wentworth students got a first-hand look.

"I learned that it takes a lot of effort to restore art," said Khalil Everage, student.

Restoring the murals and the history behind the paintings is now part of the new Wentworth's overall curriculum.

"We are going to make them so much a part of our current building that it will look like they were always there," said Dina Everage, principal, Wentworth Elementary.

But, not all will fit. One painting has a big blank space because it was painted specifically for the old school's auditorium. There are about 40 paintings that came from CPS closed schools. CPS plans to restore all of them, even if there is no place for the art to go.

"We know that some may not fit, so we have storage plans for anything that doesn't fit," said Mario Rossero, CPS Director of Art.

Depending on fit, it will take a few more months before the Wentworth murals are ready to be installed in the new location.

On the North Side, community members have been worried about the murals at the closed Trumbull Elementary. CPS says the paintings will be restored and returned to the building. CPS says there are plans to re-purpose Trumbull.