A birthday present for Gwendolyn


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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing reporter

A 600-square-foot mosaic and painted mural wraps around the corner of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School at the corner of Washington and Clinton, a tribute to the institution's namesake on what would have been her 100th birthday.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry in 1950, Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1969 to 2000, educator and Chicagoan, inspired this work of art with her poem, "The Wall," which she read at a dedication of "The Wall of Respect, "August 27, 1967 — 50 years ago — a mural displaying prominent African Americans on an abandoned building in Bronzeville.

Kristiana Murray, Brooks Middle School art teacher, analyzed both the poem and the mural with her eighth-grade art students on a school-wide Gwendolyn Brooks Day in May.

"We discussed the importance of this piece of art in time and space, how the event inspired community murals across the country, and who would we want to honor in our school's wall of respect," she said. "My art students drew imagery, chose photos, and practiced color combinations."

Also involved in the project were Oak Park and River Forest High School Art Teacher and mosaic artist Tracy Van Duinen and Holmes Elementary School Art Teacher Kimberly Jones, who consulted throughout the early stages and also headed up the Mosaic Project for middle school students this summer at the Oak Park Education Foundation (OPEF) Base Camps, along with Murray, during which students created and installed mosaics on the wall.

This was truly a community effort. Brooks middle-schoolers glazed tiles, and other students made oak leaves at an OPEF Martin Luther King Day workshop. The faces painted on the wall were created by three OPRF high school students, a Brooks building engineer, two Brooks art teachers (including Murray), and an Oak Park artist. OPEF staff, board members, high school students, neighbors, and local artists helped with grouting.

The final touch: "A deck will be installed for students to stand on to read the poetry," Murray said.

Michelle Dybal

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