Community Murals Notice Classical Presences


A 600-ft long cement bench covered with paintings by local families and Chicago artistsruns along Lake Michigan in the Rogers Park neighborhood between Farwell and Morse Avenues. Every year in June, the bench is repainted, and new murals appear relating to a new theme. The theme for 2014 was “Dreaming It Real,” and several of the muralists incorporated classical imagery into their artworks, displaying the presence of the classical world in the public imagination of Chicago today.

One section of the mural (Figure 1)  combines several elements of past and present from both Illinois and antiquity. A fruit orchard, an ancient Greek temple and Roman colonnades sit above Native American teepees, beside wind turbines and modern residential buildings with cable antennae and chimney smoke, all together along the shore of the lake. The muralist’s title spins the theme slightly, “dreaming cities real,” to suggest that all these elements co-exist in the imaginative projection of Chicago:


Figure 1


In another section (Figures 2 & 3) painter Michelle Finkler salutes city planner Daniel Burnham, reproducing his famous line, “Make no little plans” atop a depiction of a scene meant to suggest the grand design of Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893 –  striking buildings and manmade canals. Finkler’s scene is awash in fantastic colors and thus contrasts sharply with the expanse of uniformly white neo-classical buildings that characterized the grounds of the World’s Fair, also known as the 1893 Columbian Exposition in honor of the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ journey to the “New World.”


Figure 2



Figure 3


But Finkler’s scene might just be onto something.  Recent archaeological ultraviolet-ray  reconstructions of ancient temples and sculpture   show that those apparenlty austere white marble structures and scuptures were in fact originally painted brilliant, even gaudy, colors.  Finkler’s  mural suggests antiquity’s true colors. “Dreaming it real” indeed!   (K.H., S.S.M.)

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