Wednesday, February 10, 2016
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Labor Murals in Illinois

Many of Illlinois' labor battles and landmark events are portrayed in an array of stunning murals in Chicago and around the state. In a world surrounded by billboards and advertisements, we can turn to murals to tell us of the lives of people that built our movements and communities. We're sharing the list of labor murals the ILHS developed for our 2011 Union Hall of Honor, when four working-class artists and muralists joined the roster of our inductees.

Now on special sale at our online bookstore: The re-released ILHS DVD "When Art Speaks Labor's Language," a tour guided by President Emeritus Les Orear of three iconic Chicago labor murals. Order your copy today.


Murals are powerful and democratic communicators that may be seen and experienced by anyone unlike paintings that are owned privately or are held in museums.  Posters are put up and torn down, the internet offers countless images untouchable and on small screens, but a mural can last for generations. More importantly, murals signify a place and a people. As ILHS president Les Orear declared in 1972:

In times of trial, this art is a witness…It bears testimony to the truth of people’s lives, to the truth of the people’s spirits, to the truth of the people’s history and tradition, to the truth of the people’s aspirations.  It testifies in confirm of the struggle which places unity of labor above the transitory conflicts of politics and ideology.

Since the World’s Columbian Exposition and the Progressive Era, Chicago’s public walls have spoken about the lives of working people. When the Roosevelt administration helped stem the tide of the Great Depression by providing wages to the nation’s unemployed artists, writers, and actors, Chicago became a central site of activity.  First, the Civil Works Administration and the Treasury Department in 1933 and then the Works Progress Administration in 1935, offered real work to nearly 1000 writers, actors, and artists in Illinois.  (From the inception of the federal program the Republican Party tried to diminish and abolish it.)  Along with the WPA and Treasury, other New Deal programs made work for the millions of unemployed craftsmen, professionals, and laborers by building the nation’s infrastructure, buildings, and national parks.  Among all of the creations, 300 murals adorned the walls of public schools and post offices in Illinois, some of which featured workers—although specific reference to the labor struggle itself could not be portrayed as it was deemed too risky for the federally funded program.  At least half the murals from the Depression still exist in Illinois today and may be viewed by the public.

The mural movement re-emerged in the late 1960s as individuals and community organizations began documenting their civil rights history and struggles on the walls of the city – either sanctioned by officials or simply claimed.  The power of the work was indisputable, and groups began to raise money or receive funding to make art speak to the public.  The key roles of William Walker, Mark Rogovin, and John Pitman Weber and their collaborators in leading the resurgence of community-based art cannot be minimized. Unions, too, saw the images and invested in murals on their buildings, the first work being “The Worker” by William Walker on the wall of the United Packinghouse Workers District 1 hall in 1974.  Now the buildings of Teamsters 705, United Electrical District 11, and the Chicago Federation of Labor in Chicago, the Laborers 362 in Bloomington, and the workers  in Joliet have firmly situated the mural movement as a part of the unions’ past, present, and future.

Celebrate workers found in public art and pay homage to the dedicated artists, community and union members, that made the murals possible.  Remember too, that artists are workers and those that dedicate their craft to the greater good deserve our support and admiration.  Take inspiration and forge ahead with the new labor movement!

The mural movement, then, is a celebration of love, laced with anger; a communication of history focused on tomorrow; a record of the struggle re-strengthened by new purpose; a reception for the people’s heroes containing a challenge to be ourselves heroic.

Labor Murals in Illiinois 

Chicago - South Side

The Great Migration Field to Factory (Marcus Akinlana) – 3947 S. Michigan Ave.

History of Archer Avenue; I&M Canal Workers,  (artist unknown) – Kelly High School*

The Worker aka, Packinghouse Workers,  (William Walker) – 4859 S. Wabash Ave.

Man the Builder; some scenes of workers, (James E. McBurney, John Courtwright, Jean Jacobs) – Tilden High School*

No Fads or Frills (Astrid Fuller) – Lake Park Ave., north of 51st

Outstanding American Women (Edward Millman) – Lucy Flower High School*

Pioneer Social Work (Astrid Fuller) - 57th Street Metra underpass

Tribute to Pullman Porters (Bernard Williams) – 103rd and Cottage Grove Ave.

Hands of Solidarity, Hands of Freedom (Daniel Manrique Arias) – 37 S. Ashland Ave.

Teamster Power (Mike Alewitz) – 300 S. Ashland Ave.

Untitled (Pilsen construction workers) (Bill Campillo) – 1900 S. Carpenter

Chicago - North Side

Ballet Dancers (Florian Durzynski) – Chopin Elementary School*

Contemporary Chicago (Rudolph Weisenborn) – Nettlehorst Elementary School*

Dock Scene (William Eduoard Scott) – Lane Tech High School*

Migration of a People (Ed Maldonado and Bob Solari) – 1516 N. Claremont

Mural of Heroes (Jose Berrios and “Creatin’ Blastin’ Art) – Diversey and Milwaukee Aves.

Matriarchy for a New Millennium (Tim Portlock and Beatriz Santiago Munoz) – 825 W. Sheridan Rd.

Fabric of Our Lives (Miriam Socoloff and Cynthia Weiss) – 3003 W. Touhy Ave.

Spirit of Chicago (Gustav Adolph Brand) – Schurz High School*

Epoch of a Great City (Henry Sternberg) – Lakeview Post Office 1343 W. Irving Park

The States; depicts industries per state related to the auto industry, (Miklos Gaspar, Axel Linus, S. Wick) – Lane Tech High School*

 Joliet murals

German Heritage Part II (Thomas Manley and Dante DiBartolo) -  North side of Columbia at Scott streets

E & J Railway and its Mexican Workers (Javier Chavira) – West side of the 600 block of Scott Street

Joliet Limestone: Our Canals and Quarries (Kathleen Farrell and Kathleen Scarboro) – East retaining wall of the Des Plaines River at Washington Street

Joliet: City of Steel (Javier Chavira) – Northeast side of Michigan at East Washington streets

Papering the World: Joliet’s Wallpaper Industry (Kathleen Scarboro and Kathleen Farrell) – Northwest corner of Michigan at Cass streets

Bustling Bluff in the 1800s (Kathleen Scarboro and Kathleen Farrell) – South side of West Jefferson between Broadway and Hickory streets

From Slovenia to America; working in the steel mills (Lillian Brule) – East side of Scott at Ohio streets

Visions of Joliet (Alejandro Romero) – Joliet Union Train Station, inside lower level

Other areas of Illinois

Laborers (Kari Sandhaas) – Bloomington, Laborers Local 362 old hall

Scenes of Industry (Edgar Britton),  Highland Park High School*

Occupational Studies and Their Appreciation (Edgar Britton) – Bloom Township High School*

Decatur Post Office Murals (Edward Millman, Edgar Britton, Mitchell Siporin)

Illinois Miners (William Schwartz) - Eldorado Post Office

On the River (Edmund Lewandowski) – Hamilton Post Office

Industrial Marseilles - Marseilles Post Office

Going to Work - Staunton Post Office

 Sources and Notes

Urban Art Chicago: A Guide to Community Murals, Mosaics, and Sculptures

Olivia Gude and Jeff Huebner, Ivan Dee Publisher, 2000. Art for the People: The Rediscovery and preservation of Progressive- and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1943

Heather Becker, Chronicle Books, 2002.

 The Federal Art Project in Illinois, 1935-1943

George J. Mavigliano and Richard Lawson, Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.

 Insurgent Images: The Great Walls of Joliet

Jeff Huebner, Friends of Community Public Art/University of Illinois Press, 2001.

 Many images may be found on Flicker, posted by individuals

 If you are aware of other murals of working people in Illinois, please contact the ILHS with the information so it can be added to the website.  Photos welcomed!

* To view murals in the Chicago Public Schools, school permission would be needed to visit; others noted below are in public spaces.


"And I long to see the day when Labor will have the destiny of the nation in her own hands and she will stand as a united force and show the world what the workers can do." --- Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, 1830-1930

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