-Artist: Carolyn Elaine & John Pitman Weber
Juan Carlos Perez, Lead Assistant Artist
Ellen Pipal, Artist Assistant & Intern
Annette ‘Malika’ Jackson
Preston Roland Lewis
Nicole Stella Taylor
- Sponsorship: Alderman Toni Preckwinkle 4th Ward & Chicago Public Art Group
- Special Thanks: Chicago Department of Transportation, Elmhurst College, Holsten Real Estate, Metra
Canadian National Railroad & Chicago Public Art Group
- 2000 sq ft Bricolague Mosaic – Exterior Installation, Chicago, IL
This bricolage mural was initiated by Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and produced through the concerted efforts of an artist team and community volunteers. It provides pedestrians and riders different experiences of the history of 47th Street.
The design is concentrated in five areas, the two ends and the section of the wall under three skylights. Each area features a symbol, along with photos. Moving from west to east, the viewer moves from the city
toward the lake, the park, and open sky, and the photos historically from the Great Migration through the difficulties and energy of the 30’s and 40’s toward today.
Adinkra symbols and American Indian symbols form the largest images that organize the wall. Beginning at the west end, is the Adinkra symbol the Sankofa bird, with his head turned toward the past, holding the egg of the future in its beak. The Sankofa symbolizes “Know Your Heritage.” The large hand with a spiral in the palm is an American Indian version of the ancient universal sign of human presence. In the middle is a woman’s face reading a book, with the
words “Know, Learn, Read.” Then the Adinkra symbol Denkyem is present, a sort of crocodile-turtle, with another spiral, symbolizing the importance of “Adaptability.” The Denkyem lives in the water, breathes air and lays eggs on land. Finally there is another hand forming the “Mudra” for tranquility and balance. From the fingers of the hand three
birds emerge, flying east into green and blue.
These symbols encourage us to know our heritage, be conscious, to learn, to read, and to be able to adapt in a state of balanced tranquility. Pedestrians also see poetry, family photos from community families, and famous people associated with 47th Street. Many local residents, art students and community volunteers contributed their time, skills and energy to help make this passageway sparkle.
We hope the 47th Street mosaic mural creates new interest in Bronzeville/Hyde Park history as well as a beautiful walk.
Many of the photos we viewed while researching for this project were almost identical to those I’ve seen sense childhood in my grandparent’s and great grandparent’s photo albums. Expressionless faces in black and white photos taken with cameras that didn’t provide negative originals let alone choice of format or pixels. Portraits that originated as black and white photographs, but were touched up” by hand “with color. The images in the books we reviewed told stories no different from those told by the elders of my family who lived in the North Kenwood/Oakland, Bronzeville community. I have documented seven generations of my family in the mural. Five generations lived at one time or another in three housed on the 4600 and 4500 blocks of Greenwood Ave.
Many neighborhood residents came out over the course of six weeks to see the progression of the artwork. They were excited to meet the artist and students, take pictures, talk about the design and just participate in any way possible. Some were thrilled to just put a few pieces on the wall, learn how to break tile and cut mirror or just view the process. Others were adventurous enough to mix cement and even grout and clean. Whatever the level of participation the energy from the community residents was very empowering and quite often just the boost we needed to accomplish our daily goal.
Both the artists and students were touched and inspired by the many stories that were shared on site about the history of the community and the role African Americans played in the very era that was being captured in stone. It was amazing to see adults from the community passing on (to the youth)their version of the stories told to them by their parents and grand- parents ; stories of a time in history where Bronzeville was the place where all of the action was. What was even more inspiring was watching the students as they began to realize that what they were creating was giving a visual voice to so many people who wanted their stories told.
Patric McCoy (a long time resident of the community) frequently rides past the underpass at 47th street on his bike in the summer, headed to the lake front. As he passed by this summer he noticed the progression of the mural. In a conversation about the images that had already been placed on the wall and the theme of the mural, Patric mentioned that his family’s history was rooted in the community and that the pictures reminded him of those tucked away in his own family photo albums. He was completely shocked when I invited him to share those pictures with the rest of the community by allowing us to incorporate them into the composition.
I was particularly fond of the picture of his great grandmother (Flapper Dancer) born in 1898. She married and lived in Chicago from ~1915 to 1925. Patric also contributed a picture of his great -great grandmother who was a slave. She was born in the 1840’s.
The pinnacle of the project for me, was when Patric and his cousin actually escorted his mom, Mother McCoy ( 85 yrs old) to the wall to view their family photos during the fabrication process. It was really touching to see her excitement and pride as she walked the entire length of the mural with her son and nephew - sharing stories about her family when they lived in the Bronzeville community.
When Malika saw the photograph of the Interns at Provident Hospital (the first Black Hospital in the country), she was immediately reminded of a similar photo of her daughter Courtnye with fellow doctors at Tuskegee University. The juxtaposition of these images really affirms how far African Americans (especially female) have come in the field of medicine.
Donna Townsend commented as she walked by that she too had these types of photographs in her family photo album. It brought to mind an image of her mom and aunt at the Club Delisa. “Everyone has photos of their relatives out listening to live music and having a good time at the neighborhood clubs”. She was so moved by the invitation to include her family’s photo that she volunteered numerous hours working on the mural.
Juan Hooker and his wife were so excited by the mural when they road their bikes under the underpass that they came back the next day to find out who was creating it. As it turns out Juan is a Chicago Firefighter and his Grandfather was also a Chicago Firefighter at Hook & Ladder Company #11 when it was at 36 Pl & State. When he shared that he had some images in his family photo album I explained that we had completed our last firing for the project. I found out the next day that we needed to do one more firing because some of our selected images had been inadvertently left out. Juan was elated to get a phone call asking him to email the photos of his grandfather along with other Black Firefighters taking role call in front of the station in 1948. I was even more elated to include them in the mural.