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South Side Murals: The Renewed Spirit of Hyde Park

By Laura M. Browning in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 10, 2010 6:17PM

We've written before about the Spirit of Hyde Park, a South Side mural painted in 1973 under the guidance of artist Astrid Fuller. The mural had been crumbling away for years, slowly disappearing behind peeled paint and weather-eaten concrete. So we were thrilled on our last trip to Hyde Park when we saw that the Chicago Public Arts Group had come to the rescue and given Spirit some much-needed attention.

It’s more renewal than a strict restoration—parts of the mural were cleaned and repainted, while other sections were painted over with entirely new designs. Fuller, the original artist, agreed to the plan suggested by muralist Olivia Gude (who created the nearby mural, “Where We Come From…”) and executed by muralist Bernard Williams. It’s one of the best restoration projects we’ve seen, since it honors the old mural but also doesn’t make any apologies for painting over it.

We love the boldness and intensity of the new design: the original crumbled paint showing through shirt pockets and polka dots, the bright geometric designs, the stark portrayal of civil rights activists. The black polka dots draw the attention of passersby, a nice change from the older mural, which was too easy to miss. But this, like so many other Chicago murals, offers as much up close as it does from a distance. We suggest taking a slow walk down 57th Street to admire the 35 years of history layered on the viaduct walls.