Murals under the Chicago ‘L’ immortalize DePaul University’s diverse history

Historical figures from DePaul University past have been memorialized on actual pillars —in a murals painted on the columns beneath the Chicago Fullerton ‘L’ platform.  (DePaul University/Joel Dik)
Historical figures from DePaul University's past have been memorialized on actual pillars —in murals painted on the columns beneath the Chicago Fullerton ‘L’ platform. (DePaul University/Joel Dik)
CHICAGO — When referring to pillars of the community, comments are often made in reference to local heroes or influential icons who have made, or are making, an impact on their neighborhood. This fall, pillars from DePaul University will be memorialized on actual pillars —in murals painted and affixed on the columns beneath the Chicago Fullerton ‘L’ platform.

Titled “The Story of ‘The Little School’ Under the ‘L,’” the project is the vision of DePaul art instructor Bro. Mark Elder, C.M. It was designed to celebrate 120 years of achievement and diversity at DePaul while also beautifying a much used but barren thoroughfare.

“The big thing about community supported public art is just that. It benefits the community, but in ways both tangible and not,” said Elder. “The art will make the space look nice, but the process also prompts a dialogue, the making of decisions to find common ground. People get so excited when they’re doing something as one unified community. There’s a natural, earnest bonding that occurs from participation in and the making of community art.”

The extensive mural will depict honorable alumni, notable milestones and significant historical events from the university’s past. It utilizes 25 pillars under the platform by dividing them into six groups of four, where each group represents a 20-year span of history at DePaul. The remaining pillar will be reserved for informational signage containing a QR code that, once more pillars are completed, visitors can scan to receive additional information about the mural and its subjects.

Brother Mark Elder, C.M., instructed DePaul University students on how to create and install public art. As part of their class, Elder and his students created and installed artwork depicting historical figures from DePaul's past. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
Brother Mark Elder, C.M., instructed DePaul University students on how to create and install public art. As part of their class, Elder and his students created and installed artwork depicting historical figures from DePaul's past. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

Four complete pillars and the signage are on display under the ‘L,’ and Elder will be working with DePaul students to complete four additional pillars every year. He hopes to turn the mural into a service tradition. “I’m always looking for opportunities to not just teach students about the making of public art, but to get them involved in the actual making,” said Elder. “This was a good way to certainly take advantage of that while creating a service tradition in that direction.”

Figures who are currently represented include:

  • Ray Meyer, the legendary DePaul men’s basketball coach.
  • Benjamin Hooks, a civil rights activist and first African-American criminal court judge in Tennessee history. He is a 1948 DePaul alumnus who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008. 
  • Mabel “Dolly” Landry Staton, a track Olympian and alumna.
  • Minnie Daly, the first laywoman to graduate from DePaul, with Sr. Mary Teresita Frawley, S.P., and Sr. Mary Clemenza Leahy, B.V.M., the first two nuns to graduate in 1912.

Yet to come are depictions of former DePaul men’s basketball star George “Mr. Basketball” Mikan, DePaul’s first African-American graduate Rose Vaughn, the Sheffield Neighbor’s Association, the “D-men” who gave rise to DePaul’s Blue Demon mascot, and the student protests of 1968.

Each of the 25 pillars will eventually be transformed in some way to represent the school’s past, but Elder says that the biggest milestones of contemporary times are undecided. “I’ll probably have more open discussions with the community as to how the themes of these days can be expressed, given how fluid current times can be,” said Elder.

Brother Mark Elder, C.M., adds the finishing touches to the mural depicting the first women graduates of DePaul University.  (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
Brother Mark Elder, C.M., adds the finishing touches to the mural depicting the first women graduates of DePaul University. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
The project will take a while to complete, but Elder has ensured the mural’s durability and longevity by using polytab fabric, which is extremely resilient. Furthermore, because the space under the ‘L’ is sheltered by the tracks overhead, it will be spared from the worst of Chicago’s weather, he said.

A small dedication ceremony will take place Oct. 15 near the pillars under the ‘L’ during DePaul’s alumni weekend. Dolly Staton, the former Olympic athlete, will be in attendance and provide remarks.

In the meantime, Elder is simply happy to be working with students on such an important, practical project. The mural will be a celebration of the school’s evolution since its founding in 1898, and according to Elder, there’s a real interest in that vibrant history.

“The students working on the mural have a real excitement and energy to them. They find this project to be more than fascinating. They all want to know about the stories of the past,” said Elder, and through this mural, those stories can be immortalized under the ‘L.’

The mural of civil rights activist and DePaul Law School graduate Benjamin Hooks (foreground) is painted next to Olympian and DePaul track star •	Mabel “Dolly” Landry Staton. The murals are part of a larger public art project honoring important historical figures from DePaul's past. (DePaul University/Joel Dik)
The mural of civil rights activist and DePaul Law School graduate Benjamin Hooks (foreground) is painted next to Olympian and DePaul track star Mabel “Dolly” Landry Staton. The murals are part of a larger public art project honoring important historical figures from DePaul's past. (DePaul University/Joel Dik)

Source:
Bro. Mark Elder, C.M.
melder@depaul.edu​
773-325-2560 

Media Contact:
Jon Cecero
jcecero@depaul.edu
312-362-7640​​​​​