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image: Campus NewsCity's colors revealed in mural book
Mary Lackritz Gray, AM'78, became interested in Chicago murals ten years ago while waiting for a performance to begin at the restored Auditorium Theatre downtown. "I looked up at the dancing figures painted on the proscenium of the stage, and began to wonder what they were all about," she writes in the introduction to her new book, A Guide to Chicago's Murals (Chicago, 2001).

Gray, the author of A Guide to Chicago's Public Sculpture (Chicago, 1983), immersed herself in books and archives at the Chicago Historical Society, the Harold Washington Library, and the Art Institute's Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, and toured the city and suburbs, "finding that one discovery led to another."

One of her discoveries was that there was too much mural art in Chicago to fit in one book. From late-19th-century scenes recalling European mythology to Depression-era Americana sponsored by the Works Project Administration to colorful community-themed works enlivening the city's poorer neighborhoods in recent decades, Chicago teems with public art, and Gray had to make difficult choices. The 181 murals pictured in her guide represent a range of ages, artists, periods, and aesthetics. Addenda include lists of murals not featured, artist biographies, and a glossary of terms.

Two murals in the guide are located on campus. The excerpts that follow are reprinted with the permission of the author and the Press. More information on A Guide to Chicago's Murals can be found at www.press.uchicago.edu. - C.S.

 

PHOTO:  Athetic Games in the Middle Ages in Bartlett Gym

Athletic Games in the Middle Ages, 1904
Bartlett Gymnasium
Artist: Frederic Clay Bartlett

Bartlett Gymnasium is one of the more than 50 buildings constructed in the Gothic style on the University of Chicago campus between 1892 and 1932. The artist Frederic Bartlett worked with the architects to create an interior that blended Gothic with the English Arts and Crafts style, a movement popular in Chicago at the turn of the century, which emphasized craftsmanship and handwork. Built as a men's gym and donated by Bartlett's father in memory of another son who had recently died, the building features a mural that depicts an athletic tournament set in the Middle Ages. Bartlett thought the "age of chivalry" could be inspiring to the students. The panoramic frieze is mounted between the dark oak wainscoting and the cornice on each side of the doorway. In the center is a painted shield bearing the dedication: "To the advancement of Physical Education and the Glory of Manly Sports this gymnasium is dedicated to the memory of Frank Dickinson Bartlett, 1880-1900." An inscription under one of the scenes reads: "How happy is he born and taught that serveth not another's will: whose armor is his honest thought and simple truth his utmost skill." In describing the mural Bartlett wrote, "The crowd looking on the games are in gorgeous holiday attire-brocades stiff with gold, cut velvet, and rich silks, with jewels of equal splendor. Many of the ornaments are raised in 'gesso' and gilded in antique gold leaf after the manner of early English and Italian decorations." The building is to be converted to a dining hall, but the murals will remain in place.

The Masque of Youth, 1918
Ida Noyes Hall
Artist: Jesse Arms Botke

In 1916 some 300 students, alumni, and schoolchildren participated in a dramatic, allegorical outdoor presentation called "The Masque of Youth," celebrating both the quarter centennial of the University of Chicago and the opening of Ida Noyes Hall, a new building for women students. Two years later the picturesque pageant was recreated on the wall of the small third-floor theater. The inspiration of the art of the early Italian Renaissance and the later Pre-Raphaelite movement is apparent in these highly decorative murals. A series of panels mounted between the windows and on the walls of the room depict the procession of costumed figures that had paraded past the Gothic buildings of the university campus. The Spirit of Gothic Architecture and Alma Mater, in long white gowns, stand in front of the Law School, where the masque was presented. Youth, crowned with spring flowers, is followed by children dressed in blue representing Lake Michigan. Veiled figures carry a symbolic moon, and dancers energetically pull the golden sun chariot past Harper Memorial Library. The blue-robed spirit of Worship carries the sacred book, and Knowledge bears her lighted lamp. Finally, the personification of the city follows two pages waving the blue banner that denotes the lake, and a group of figures portray the endless cycle of Youth. Also represented are the university coat of arms and symbols of the divisions of the university: Archaeology, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, and Art. In 1995 an ongoing process of cleaning and restoration was begun, revealing again the freshness of the mural's images and its glowing colors. Patron La Verne Noyes, who had funded the building in memory of his wife, called the murals "a crowning halo."

 


  OCTOBER 2001

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