Depression-Era Mural Repaired, Restored At Aurora Elementary School

Lisa Fielding
May 07, 2019 - 12:47 pm
Depression era mural repaired and restored at Freeman Elementary School

Photo provided by Scott Sherwood

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- An Aurora school is showing off an artistic discovery that had been hidden for decades.

Freeman Elementary School, 153 S. Randall Road, was constructed in 1928. Ten years later, a grand mural, Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, was designed to welcome people as they ascended the grand stairway 80 years ago.

"That was the main entrance for many decades. You'd walk up the staircase and you'd see the painting up there," said Scott Sherwood, conservator, artist.

But after several decades of renovation and expansion, the mural was painted over and forgotten.

"Around 2013, the Aurora Public Art Commission was doing a survey about murals. The investigator found a photo of the old mural. It had a strange shape so one of the teachers at the school matched the strange shape with a strangely shaped wall and she popped her head above a drop ceiling and found the upper part of the painting that hadn't been painted over," Sherwood said.

Depression era mural repaired and restored at Freeman Elementary School
Photo provided by Scott Sherwood

In 2015, Sherwood was called in study the painting and see if it was feasible to restore it.

"Finally I determined that it was definitely possible. In 2018, I went in there and actually pealed white latex paint off this 1937 mural. It took us two months. We did it by hand without chemicals. We used a surgical scalpel.

"We had to peel the entire painting off the wall, we took it to a work site and mounted it on a panel, filled in various holes, repaired and touched it up," he said.

Depression era mural repaired and restored at Freeman Elementary School
Photo provided by Scott Sherwood

Now it has been repaired, restored and rehung in the new addition to the school.

"It's in a lovely new space. It's about 40-feet high and the painting is hanging about 8-feet off the ground. When you look up, you see this large painting. It's in the school's new gymnasium area," Sherwood said.

Depression era mural repaired and restored at Freeman Elementary School
Photo provided by Scott Sherwood

The original mural was commissioned as part of the federal make-work program known as the Works Progress Administration.

"It's a scene of the Plymouth Colony in the early 1620's. It's 18-feet long by 8-feet high. It's quite large. It was a challenge to get into the building and get it up but we did it," he said.

"Out of sight, out of mind,” Sherwood said. “Hardly anyone remembered anything about it. I hope it hangs in its new space for another 100 years."

Sherwood will be the featured speaker on May 13.