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CPS Won't Remove Historic Murals Until End of School Year

By  Adeshina Emmanuel and Patty Wetli | June 6, 2013 7:56pm | Updated on June 6, 2013 10:36pm

 Chicago Public Schools is sending crews to Lyman Trumbull Elementary School on Thursday and Friday to dismantle and remove historic murals that date back to the Progressive Era.
Trumbull Murals
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CHICAGO — Historic murals housed in closing schools won't be going anywhere until the end of the school year, Chicago Public Schools said Thursday, responding to earlier reports that said CPS was moving to dismantle the artwork this week.

CPS made the announcement a day after it said the two 100-year-old murals at Lyman Trumbull Elementary School would be dismantled and removed from the school this week in preparation for its closing. Trumbull is among 50 schools closing across the city.

CPS blamed an internal mix-up for the confusion, which caused an outcry from parents at Trumbull in Andersonville.

"CPS is not removing any murals from any school until the end of the school year," CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a statement to reporters. "When they are removed, the murals will be placed in protective storage to ensure they are preserved and secure until we determine a new public location for them, most likely in CPS schools."

Trumbull parents and supporters of the school earlier expressed outrage at the prospect of the historic murals being dismantled before the end of the school year — Trumbull's last before it closes for good.

The oil paint murals adorn the school auditorium and depict Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World, and date to 1913, according to a 2002 book written by Chicago Conservation Center CEO Heather Becker, "Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive and WPA-Era murals in the Chicago Public Schools."

Trumbull parent and Local School Council chairman James Morgan was at a late-running LSC meeting Thursday evening when Wendy Katten of activist group Raise Your Hand interrupted the meeting to let everyone know about the CPS statement.

"I'm glad. A victory's a victory," Morgan said, grateful — but still frustrated with the school district.

"The problem is we have to create chaos for them in order for them to listen to us," he said. "This has been kind of a like a cat-and-mouse game. They refuse to dialogue with us."

Friends of Trumbull — the pro-Trumbull group that on Wednesday first raised alarm about the closing school's murals in a Facebook post — responded to the CPS statement with disbelief.

"There was no mix-up," Friends of Trumbull said in a statement. "They confirmed their plan to remove the pieces to several sources. Thanks to the quick action of Trumbull supporters, local politicians, and Chicago news outlets, we were able to stop this brazen act."

The group had urged supporters in the Trumbull and Andersonville communities to reach out to Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) and "Tell him that changes to the school should be done after school lets out."

Friends of Trumbull also asked that people tell the alderman that any historic or significant items "should be donated directly to the Edgewater Historical Society!"

"We are beyond thankful that our students and teachers will be able to enjoy the murals in their original setting over the next couple weeks," the group said Thursday night, expressing hopes that the murals would "find a permanent home within the Andersonville neighborhood that has cherished them over the last 100-plus years."

Ellen Gradman, an arts educator who attended the LSC meeting, was concerned about the murals, commenting that, "You can look at these and see that they're very fragile."

"Even if these end up in a drawer at the Art Institute, they need to be given their due," she said. "They're 100 years old."

CPS said it would work with art experts, school network chiefs and "welcoming schools," throughout the system to relocate the murals, and that it is aiming to reinstall all art in welcoming schools by Aug. 26, the first day of next school year.

The school district is partnering with Parma Conservation, an art conservation group, for the removals.

CPS is in possession of at least 437 murals at 68 schools. The Chicago Conservation Center says CPS has one of the nation's largest collections of murals from early 20th century America.

The school district did not confirm how many murals exist at closing schools.

But at least four schools the Chicago Board of Education voted to shutter — West Pullman, Kohn, Lafayette and Wentworth elementary schools — all have murals dating back to either the Great Depression-era Work Projects Administration or further back to the Progressive Era, according to "Art for the People."

West Pullman and Kohn have three and two WPA murals, respectively, while Lafayette has four murals from the progressive era, according to the book. Wentworth has 31 murals from the Progressive Era and three WPA murals, the book said. The condition of the murals was not immediately known.