Hidden Treasures: The Lane Tech Murals

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Primitive Forge (The Lost Mural), 1909 Oil On Canvas © courtesy of Lane Tech Prep High School
Group Exhibition
Hidden Treasures: The Lane Tech Murals

78 E. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
October 11th, 2008 - December 31st, 2008

Michigan Ave/Downtown
Mon-Thu 9-7; Fri-Sat 9-6; Sun 10-6


In a rare presentation outside their usual public school setting, eleven outstanding historical paintings on canvas will be on view at the Chicago Cultural Center in an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of Lane Tech Prep High School. The long, horizontal murals by Henry George Brandt, among others, date from 1909 to 1913 and have been restored to their original beauty in recent years by the Mural Restoration Project. These progressive-era murals are valued for their aesthetic qualities, historical importance, and narrative content, which provide viewers with lessons about the art and history of 20th-century America. 

Hidden Treasures: The Lane Tech Murals will be on view in the Chicago Rooms on the second floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, from October 11 to December 31, 2008.  Admission to the exhibition and associated programs is free.

The public is invited for a gallery talk with Flora Doody, Director of the Mural Restoration Project, on Thursday, October 16, at 12:15 p.m.  Two Saturday afternoon “Mural Conversations” will feature distinguished local and national speakers.  On Saturday, November 15, at 2 p.m., Moderator Barry Bauman, conservator on the Mural Restoration Project, will discuss “Orphaned Art and the Invisible Conservator” with conservators Christy Cunningham-Adams and Peter Schoenmann.  Then on Saturday, December 6, a conversation on ”The Lane Tech Mural Story” will be led by Robert W. Eskridge, the Woman’s Board Endowed Executive Director of Museum Education at The Art Institute of Chicago with Mary Lackritz Gray, Dr. Sylvia Rhor, Daniel Schulman, and Dismas Rotta.

The magnificent art that beautifies Lane Tech College Prep High School is the largest and most comprehensive collection in any school in Chicago, the Midwest, and perhaps even in the United States.  The murals featured in this rare public presentation outside the school in Hidden Treasures: The Lane Tech Murals are emblematic of Progressive Era ideology, reflecting the socio-economic and cultural mood of Chicago, and the United States, in the early 1900s. The selected murals are excellent examples of the American mural movement at the beginning of the 20th century. Further, they demonstrate the importance of restoration and preservation of American Art in order to carry stories of the past to future generations

In 1909, the Public School Art Society held a contest at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for student artists to create murals for the new Lane Technical High School that would "inspire and instruct." Four artists were commissioned, including two female artists and one African-American artist, to paint murals approximately five feet high and eighteen feet long. The selected artists included Margaret Hittle (Steel Mill), William E. Scott (Dock Scene), Gordon Stevenson (Construction Site) and Dorothy Loeb (Primitive Forge). The commissioned murals depicted scenes of steel making, construction, commerce and a homage to forging tools. These themes were relevant to the technical instruction at Lane Tech, and reflected the energy and vitality of a booming Chicago during the early 20th century.

Seven more murals were commissioned for the School in 1913. Six of these murals: Hunting, Religion, Dancing, Primitive Art, Transportation and Festival Procession, are signed and dated by George Henry Brand, but the seventh painting, Harvest, is not signed or dated. In contrast to the first four works, the delicate, sensitive motif of these later murals represent man at peace in his natural environment and provide a reminder of the balance between the natural and industrial world, or between the mind and the body. This particularly enchanting series celebrates Native American life.

In 1995, understanding the importance of the mural collection and recognizing that serious deterioration had occurred over the years, Lane's Principal David Schlichting and Teacher/Mural Project Director Flora Doody initiated the Mural Restoration Project. They selected art conservator Barry Bauman, then owner/ director of the Chicago Conservation Center, to complete the restoration of selected pieces. They then went on to raise funds for the project from the Chicago Board of Education, the Lane Technical High School Alumni Association, the Lane Technical High School PTSA, and various student activities. This project then continued with the Chicago Conservation Center under its new owner/director Heather Becker.

Between 1995 and 1998 ten of the eleven oldest murals commissioned by Kate Buckingham in 1909 and 1913, when she was President of the Public School Art Society, were restored.  The eleventh mural Primitive Forge, painted in 1909, was thought to be lost in the move to the new building.  In 2004, the "lost mural" was recovered as a most happy accident of serendipity and restored after many decades in storage.  All eleven restored murals are on view in Hidden Treasures: The Lane Tech Murals.