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A refresher course on murals

Rediscovered and restored artwork from the New Deal era, most of it found in public schools, is part of a new tour in Chicago.

March 07, 2004|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

One of the nation's great troves of Progressive and New Deal murals is the subject of new tours led by the woman who wrote the book on them.

Most of the more than 400 murals, which are found throughout Chicago public schools, have been restored in an effort triggered in 1994, when Heather Becker, now chief executive of the Chicago Conservation Center, got a call from a teacher at Lane Technical High School who reported murals "that were falling off the wall," she said.

Becker investigated and found 66 murals at Lane alone. In her 2002 book, "Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1943," Becker documents the campaign to save this artwork, which she thinks is the largest such collection held by a single U.S. institution.

Chicago became a hub for public art around 1935 because its artists studied with the great Mexican muralists, Becker said. Her tour, which runs 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with lunch, costs $50 and will be offered Saturday and on Oct. 23 and Nov. 20.

"Art for the People: WPA Murals in the Chicago Public Schools" is among more than two dozen itineraries in the Chicago Office of Tourism's rapidly expanding Neighborhood Tours program.

Other new offerings include a "Hyde Park and Kenwood" tour (Aug. 21; including the University of Chicago ) and a series led by Tim Samuelson, cultural historian for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, with offbeat topics such as "Get Wet Chicago!" (July 31; bring a bathing suit and towel for visits to pools and public fountains) and "Surprise Chicago!" (Oct. 2; with the destination pulled out of a hat).

Tour prices range from $25 to $50. For more information, call (312) 742-1190 or visit www.chgocitytours.com.

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