Cover image for Art for the people : the rediscovery and preservation of progressive- and WPA-era murals in the Chicago public schools, 1904-1943
Art for the people : the rediscovery and preservation of progressive- and WPA-era murals in the Chicago public schools, 1904-1943
Becker, Heather.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Chronicle Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
248 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 32 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ND2638.C4 B43 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



Rediscovered a few years ago in woeful disrepair by a dedicated high school teacher, the murals of Chicago's public schools had long been painted over, torn down, forgotten. Dating back almost a century, these extraordinary murals, painted by celebrated artists such as Edgar Britton, Mitchell Siporin, Lucille Ward, and Edward Millman, were created during the Progressive (1904-1933) and New Deal (1933-1943) eras. Art for the People tells the inspiring sotry of their preservation: a project that brought conservators, historians, politicians, educators, and students together in a united cause, and that brought nearly 450 murals to light across nearly 70 schools--making this the largest mural preservation project in the U.S. as well as the largest concentration of historical murals in the country. Hundreds of color photos capture the dazzling array of murals and the restoration process. A complete reference and a finelyproduced record of a neglected treasure, 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.

Author Notes

Heather Becker is vice-president of the Chicago Conservation Center. She lives in Chicago.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Good news is rare in America's troubled urban schools, so when forgotten treasures--hundreds of Progressive-and New Deal^-era murals--were discovered languishing in Chicago's public schools, teachers, administrators, politicians, and curators quickly stepped in to restore, protect, and celebrate these invaluable works of art. Painted with government support around the time of the Great Depression, these striking compositions illustrate American and Illinois history, the rise of the industrial age, and the heroic efforts of the working class, as well as depicting landscapes and characters from children's literature. Artist, conservator, and historian Becker chronicles in instructive and enjoyable detail the entire history of Chicago's vibrant school murals, one of the largest collections in the country, from their creation to concealment beneath layers of grime and paint to their successful restoration. The before-and-after reproductions are lush and the commentary scintillating as Becker and her contributors, including muralists, teachers, students, artist Ed Paschke, and author Studs Terkel, discuss the murals and lament the fact that public support for art is now only a dream. Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

These books attempt to document similar topics but in very different ways. At first glance, Becker's would seem the more narrowly focused, dealing as it does only with art work in Chicago public schools. (Becker is vice president of the Chicago Conservation Center.) In truth, it is the more interesting, informative, and generally appealing: what city or town in America does not have at least one federally funded mural that came into being as a result of the New Deal Project (or the earlier, less familiar Progressive Era movement)? Chicago has always had the greatest concentration of this type of art, and this text is the first comprehensive catalog of existing work. Owing to neglect, vandalism, and changing tastes, many were badly damaged and went largely unnoticed until 1994, when the largest mural preservation program of its kind was inaugurated in Chicago. This book provides information on the project, as well as biographical information on the artists, a checklist of all the murals, more than 250 color photographs, and a separate listing of schools with murals (plus addresses). There is an excellent glossary and noteworthy essays by historians, curators, and conservators who worked on the project. All in all, this is a very useful tool for any art collection. The same cannot be said for Hemingway's effort to write, from a Marxist perspective, "a history of the Communist movement in the U.S. as it bore on the visual arts." Instead, Hemingway (University Coll., London) provides an overwhelming amount of detail on the squabblings of leftist factions and covers the role of the federal government in subsidizing their artists. The almost 200 politically charged illustrations reproduce paintings, prints, murals, drawings, periodical covers, cartoons, and a few sculptures, but comments on the works range from only a couple of words to ten lines. The index is excellent and the research is apparent, but the book will appeal only to those with a great appetite for the minutiae of leftist infighting.-Margarete Gross, Chicago P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.