‘Childhood is Without Prejudice’ mural restored

Bernard Williams, lead artist for the restoration of Bill Walker’s mural “Childhood is Without Prejudice,” cuts the ribbon during a ceremony on the Canadian National side of the East 56th Street Viaduct, Thursday, Aug. 30. Pictured with Williams are (left to right) Hyde Park Bank Representative Caprice Lindsay, South East Chicago Commission (SECC) Executive Director Diane Burnham, Chicago Public Art Group executive director Steve Weaver and Assisting Restoration Artist Damon Reed. Not pictured but present during the ribbon cutting ceremony were Metra Electric Representative Tanya Cohn, SECC Board Member Shirley Newsome, and University of Chicago Civic Engagement Representative Nika Levando. Funds for the restoration were provided to the Chicago Public Art Group by the SECC’s Neighborhood Enhancement Grant Program and its sponsors, including Hyde Park Bank. – Marc Monaghan

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff Writer

The Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) restoration of William Walker’s 1977 mural “Childhood is Without Prejudice” concluded Thursday morning with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the railroad viaduct near 56th Street and Stony Island Avenue.

The project was one of the South East Chicago Commission’s 2018 Neighborhood Enhancement Grant projects. Additional funding came from the manufacturers of the drug Abreva.

Walker, who died in 2011, remains a celebrated figure in the art history of Chicago, known for his involvement with the Black Arts Movement and his watershed 1967 “Wall of Respect” mural in Bronzeville. He was also a co-founder of the CPAG.

CPAG executive director Steve Weaver said Walker’s daughter attended Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St., across the street from the mural. He said Walker painted Childhood is Without Prejudice “as a tribute to racial harmony.”

“This mural is both an outdoor classroom for the school across the street, but it’s also a classroom for Hyde Park and the City of Chicago,” said Weaver, who called the mural a chance at “embracing each other’s unique identities.”

Assisting Restoration Artist Damon Reed speaks about the restoration of Bill Walker’s mural “Childhood is Without Prejudice,” during a ribbon cutting ceremony on the Canadian National side of the East 56th Street Viaduct, Thursday, Aug. 30. Pictured with Reed are (left to right) Metra Electric Representative Tanya Cohn, South East Chicago Commission Board Member Shirley Newsome, Hyde Park Bank Representative Caprice Lindsay, South East Chicago Commission (SECC) Executive Director Diane Burnham, and Lead Restoration Artist Bernard Williams (far right). Funds for the restoration were provided to the Chicago Public Art Group by the SECC’s Neighborhood Enhancement Grant Program and its sponsors, including Hyde Park Bank. – Marc Monaghan

CPAG artists Bernard Williams and Damon Lamar Reed restored Childhood is Without Prejudice together; Williams had restored it once before in the early 1990s. Precipitation and sunlight do “a lot of damage” to the wall, said Williams, making regular restoration work necessary.

“Some of the damage is so extensive in some of the murals that during the process of restoring it, we lose a lot of material,” he said. “One of the challenges is not losing so much material that you lose some of the actual line work and exactly where elements belong.” Paint can fade, or details can be lost when murals are scraped down.

When asked if mural restoration was about preserving the artist’s original work or bringing it back to the original appearance, Reed said the goal is to keep on the wall what can stay on the wall, though sometimes the damage is too much to do this. Matching colors to a photo of the original becomes important then; varnishes, too, can bring back some original colors.

“It is kind of a push-and-pull, keeping what’s there,” said Reed. Restorations of museum pieces, like “a Michaelangelo or something,” are not re-painted, so they look different than the original — but that is the goal with mural restoration.

“Sometimes these murals get old and people don’t even notice them. But then you bring them back to life, and everybody sees them,” he said.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com