Art for the People

"Art for the People The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive- and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1943."

By Heather Becker  Released on December 11th 2002

By Heather Becker

Released on December 11th 2002

Hundreds of murals were painted for the Chicago Public School system in the first half of the twentieth century, but after decades of neglect, many were painted over, torn down, and their severe deterioration threatened permanent loss of the collection. In recent years, these historic murals were rediscovered and restored to their former glory by individuals from all sectors of the community. It was the most intensive mural preservation project in American history, and the resulting collection is the largest concentration of Progressive- and WPA-era murals anywhere. Art for the People is the story of a priceless American art collection nearly lost for all time, and its glorious renaissance.

Between 1903 and 1943, political, economic, and social forces united to bring art to the people, through public programs funded by the government. Influenced often by the work of the great Mexican muralists—Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—and painted by men and women from all walks of life, the 438 rediscovered Chicago Public School murals recall a forgotten period of vast social change, a time when ideals were debated in the public domain. Through depictions that cover a broad prospect of American life and social history—from agricultural and industrial settings, to themes of musical genius, founding fathers, explorers, settlers and indigenous cultures—the murals continue to pose significant social questions, and challenge our vision.

Art for the People is the inspiring story of the rediscovery, careful restoration, and living history of these pieces of social wall art. A complete reference guide, it documents the history of mural making in the U.S., includes essays by 25 artists and historians like Studs Terkel, Francis V. O’Connor, and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, and details each of the 438 murals spread across 68 locations. The glorious return of a lost chapter in Chicago's annals and a detailed directory all in one, Art for the People is an important resource for those with an interest in American art and history.

With beautiful images of the restoration project and the murals themselves, this book bears witness to the undeniable ability of art to testify—as a powerful record of a people, place and time. Art for the People is a dramatic demonstration of the power of human hands working together not just to create art, but also to save it.