That area has a long history as a rail depot and open air market. More recently, a developer transformed the massive railway depots into hundreds of new apartments. But not everything was retrofitted, and the hundred year old retaining wall from the railroad was looking pretty shabby:
The project started with a huge amount of research. I worked with the Mural on Morgan committee and local historians to better understand the themes they were going for. Then I worked out a design concept that layered significant data patterns, historical figures, and vignettes of their daily work. I scrounged around the Chicago History Museum's archives for all kinds of neighborhood maps and surveys. It reinforced just how awful my handwriting is...
These old drawings provided me with beautiful, meaningful patterns for the architecturally-themed background to my mural. Check out the stunning detail on the hand-drawn insurance map below:
I also dug up some old Eastern-European posters, which were great resources for some of the text that I used as graphic elements. The open air markets had large Jewish, Russian, and Irish populations at one time, so I wanted to use those foreign alphabets to invoke the signage of a busy multicultural market.
With all that historical information, I built up a visual timeline with the different layers showing people, their work, and the resulting development of the whole neighborhood. The whole area grew from the rail yards, so the first of the work images was a settlers cabin (eventually cut from the design,) followed closely by the rail lines:
Here is the final design (split into two halves.)
Finally, it was time to paint. A lot. You can see the completed 'work/activity' imagery below, which I painted into the silhouettes of the historical figures who made these things happen. The line work for those figures came next, and the background blueprint elements were last.
This great photo was taken by Margaret Vincent. Check out her work!
After burning through every single episode of Snap Judgement and 99 Percent Invisible ever released, I finished it up.
It was a great way to spend September, especially given the brutal winter that sucker-punched us soon after. I'm glad I used bright colors...
Thanks again to the Mural on Morgan committee, and the many supporters and donors who funded this project! More of these big works are coming soon...