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Harsh Winter Damages Murals on Northwest Side

  While the murals are cleaned and repaired every spring, this winter took a big toll, organizers said.
Harsh Winter Damages Murals
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SAUGANASH — This winter's unrelenting deep freeze damaged two murals — one in Portage Park and one in Sauganash.

The police memorial mural near Montrose Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway has been repainted, and efforts are underway to replace pieces of sculpture that fell off the bricolage mural on Peterson Avenue.

The police memorial mural — which was completed in fall 2012 — overlooks a parking lot, and was damaged by the industrial snowblower used — over and over again — to clear snow from the lot, said Arts Alive Chicago President Cyd Smillie.

"Not only did [the snowblower] pick up the snow, but also bits of rock that left six- to nine-inch gashes in the paint," Smillie said.

Smillie was able to repair the mural, which honors Chicago police officers killed in the line of duty and the sacrifice of their families.

"We feel morally obligated to take care of the mural," Smillie said.

With paint from the mural's creation in storage, the biggest obstacle to fixing it was waiting for several dry days in a row, Smillie said.

It will take longer to fix the mixed-media mosaic mural near Peterson and Kostner avenues, which was completed in September.

Several clay sculptures by students at Sauganash Elementary School have fallen off the mural, which depicts the history of Sauganash.

The mural features not only painted images but also photographs on ceramic tiles, clay figures and glass using a French art technique known as bricolage to craft a three-dimensional covering for the north and south walls of the underpass under what is now a bicycle and walking path but was once railroad tracks.

"We were all very upset," said Paula Fitzgerald, the president of the Sauganash Mural Project. 

Those sculptures — including balloons, candy, flowers and butterflies — were fired in a kiln at the wrong temperature, Fitzgerald said.

"We knew they would eventually fall off, but hoped they would last about five years," Fitzgerald said. "But the terrible weather made that impossible."

Sauganash Elementary School students have been working all year to replace the sculptures, and the mural will be repaired as soon as possible, Fitzgerald said.

"No one anticipated that this winter would be so terrible," Fitzgerald said.

None of the tiles emblazoned with family photographs that were given to donors were damaged, Fitzgerald said.

"I want these murals to be there forever," Fitzgerald said.

Smillie said a brief tour of the other Arts Alive Chicago murals showed they were in better shape, although the mural at Addison Street and Avondale Avenue near the Kennedy Expressway will have to be repaired after a truck backed into it and left a two-foot-wide scrape.

"It is a rite of spring for us," Smillie said. "To wash and clean and repair and touch up these murals is a good feeling."