Mural on Morgan draws inspiration from the past

Nick Goettling working on the Morgan Street Mural

“I’m not trying to reproduce old black and white pictures,” says artist Nick Goettling. Photo: Britney Musial/UIC News (click on image for larger size)

A dull 82-foot-by-12-foot concrete wall at Morgan and 15th streets is getting a new look.

The Mural on Morgan Committee — a group of eight residents of the area — is turning the wall into a vibrant mural representing the history of the community.  Four UIC alumni — Elsa Soto, Kerl LaJeune, Benny Escutia and Julie May Eng — are members of the mural committee.

“We all had a common interest to celebrate and to preserve the heritage of our new community,” said committee member Elsa Soto, assistant director of the Academic Resource Center in the College of Engineering.

“Many of us are not originally from this area. We come from different parts of the city, the country and even the world. We thought it was important to educate, not just ourselves, but other residents about the history of this community.”

The art project is more than a mere colorful wall, it has symbolic illustrations representing the past: legacies of the railroad industry and South Water Market, the blues history of Maxwell Street and the impact of the UIC campus. The inspiration behind the illustrations on the mural came from photographs taken by Charles Cushman, an amateur photographer in the 1930s to the 1960s.

“UIC has been such a big influence in the development of this entire area. The mural is so vibrant and colorful, it will definitely represent the diversity the community continues to have,” Soto said.

The mural, scheduled to be complete by the end of the month, shows students wearing graduation caps and will incorporate references to the campus, medical school and community of young professionals that UIC has developed.

The process of choosing an artist was difficult, Soto said, but the group selected Nick Goettling, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“It’s a type of mural you don’t normally see, as far as historical murals. I’m not trying to reproduce old black and white pictures,” Goettling said.

“A sense of community and the neighborhood is not a static archaic thing. It’s not something in the past that has no effect on you now. Any area of Chicago, this one especially, is really comprised of its people and the community.”

Part of the Art in Public Places Initiative sponsored by 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis, the Mural on Morgan committee funded the project on their own.

Soto hopes the mural will get people to stop and digest the intricate beauty and history of the area.

“We definitely encourage people, once it’s completed, to go and see it in person because there is going to be very unexpected details,” Soto said.

Update: the original version of this article listed two UIC alumni as members of the mural committee; according to the committee, there are four.

Photos: Britney Musial/UIC News and Mural on Morgan (click on images for larger size)

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