Children working on the tiles for the mosaic. (Courtesy of Oak Park Education Foundation)

Award-winning artist and educator Tracy Van Duinen, who has murals all over the city of Chicago, is collaborating with the Oak Park Education Foundation (OPEF) and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Oak Park on an outdoor community mosaic mural in honor of the school’s namesake. Part of the project includes a nod to the  50th anniversary of the South Side of Chicago’s Wall of Respect with four spots dedicated to community people and culture within the context of the school–including, of course, Gwendolyn Brooks. 

Tracy Van Duinen

“The concept is amazing. Using mosaics, mirrors and paintings will create an interesting visual for our corner. I also love the focus words (respect, empower, create). These are themes that we are trying to infuse in our students’ learning experience at Brooks. The color scheme will certainly brighten up our beige/brown wall as well as act as a great backdrop to our new garden name Eventide (the title of the first poem published by Gwendolyn Brooks at the age of 13),” said Principal LeeAndra Khan. “Being a current Bronzeville resident, I love the fact that we are using a wall to commemorate her life. My granny would talk about the Wall of Respect and what Black Chicago was like in those days. Creating our own version of a wall here at Brooks Middle school is a beautiful thing.” 

Van Duinen has worked at Oak Park River Forest High School for three years and is a member of the Chicago Public Arts Group. He received a Golden Apple Award in 2001 while working as a teacher at Austin Community Academy High School in Chicago.   

LeeAndra Khan, Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School Principal

OPEF is a nonprofit based in Oak Park with a mission to brings artists, architects, scientists, and technology experts into K-8th grade public school classrooms in the local school district. The group initiated the project back in November and it will be completed at the end of June during its BASE Camp, which is a wide selection of paid summer enrichment offerings. One of the more popular BASE Camp activities for the past seven years has been the mural project.   

“Since its creation seven years ago, BASE Camp has partnered with the community to do a large-scale art project. The most visible example of this would be the science mural tour under the Green Line viaducts —paintings covering six different walls. We were looking to take this art project in a new direction with a new medium,” said Lindsay Bruce OPEF BASE Camp Director. 

During the year, Van Duinen has collaborated with Brooks’ art teacher Kristiana Murray. In the summer, he will finalize the project with Kim Jones, a BASE Camp teacher. Part of the cost for the project has been offset with sale of personalized tiles that feature words or photos submitted by people who purchase them. Those tiles will be incorporated into the finished mural. 

“It lets people put their hand in it. People will go up to the wall by finding their piece of it. Then people will take ownership of the mural as a community,” said Van Duinen.   

The oak leaves represent the younger Oak Park inhabitants influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks’ life and work. They will be painted red and fill the body of the central Gwendolyn Brooks figure.

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