Tuesday, September 13, 2011

William Walker, famed Chicago muralist, dies at 85, as All of Mankind continues to fade at Strangers Home

click images for larger view
The little church seems almost left behind, cast adrift in the moat of empty parkland that surrounds it. Over the century of its existence, the church has seen its community grow, die, grow again in a new direction, and then empty out.  It was built in 1901 as the American Protestant Episcopal Church, but by 1927 it was acquired by the Chicago Archdiocese and re-opened as the San Marcello Mission to serve the burgeoning Italian-American community around it.  In the 40's and 50's, block after block of that community would be demolished for what would become Cabrini-Green.  The Italians moved out; Afro-Americans moved in.  "The Projects" were born.  In 1971,  Benedictine priest Dennis Kendrick to was brought in to try to salvage the declining congregation. Not only did he raise money for repairs, he hired Chicago muralist William Walker to cover the church's exterior with All of Mankind, Unity of the Human Race.
In 1967, on the side of a Bronzeville liquor store, Walker had painted The Wall of Respect, an iconic artwork incorporating the images of 50 prominent Afro-Americans.  Walker's work could be found throughout Chicago. 

After San Marcello was closed in 1974, the building became home to Strangers Home Missionary Baptist Church, which about six years ago painted over the murals Walker had created for the building's interior.  About that time, a campaign was started to save All of Mankind, but today it continues to fade from view.

William Walker died this week at 85.  Mary Schmich of the Tribune has a touching tribute to the artist and his work here. Today, only three of Walker's murals survive, including History of the Packinghouse Worker, at 4859 S. Wabash, which was restored in 1998.  All of Mankind continues to slowly disappear from view.  The family that runs Strangers Home MB is said to be looking to sell, as the bare land on which the church stands increases in value while the area continues to gentrify.

For now, William Walker's eloquent mural and the church on which it was painted still stand, in eerie isolation, sanctuary turned artifact, losing their footing in the flow of time.

1 comment:

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