Two large murals that will be located at the new $86 million Springfield-Sangamon County Transportation Hub will provide “a history lesson of sorts” for travelers and visitors, said a local artist and member of the mural advisory committee.
The Sangamon County board recently accepted the advisory committee’s recommendations and approved contracts for two artists from New York and Pennsylvania.
The murals are scheduled to be installed later this fall. The budget for the installation of both murals was $217,525.
The hub is designed to bring together Amtrak trains, Sangamon Mass Transit District buses, paratransit vehicles, airport shuttles and taxis just northeast of the Sangamon County building on Ninth Street.
The transportation center is part of the Springfield Rail Improvements Project, which seeks to alleviate rail congestion in downtown Springfield by consolidating train traffic from Third Street to 10th Street and through building a series of overpasses and underpasses along the corridor.
While U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama will be prominently featured, figures like Eva Carroll Monroe, the founder and operator of the Lincoln Colored Home; Ida B. Wells, a Black civil rights advocate, journalist and feminist; Carrol Hall, co-founder and first president of the Springfield-based Horace Mann Insurance Company and Ruth Ellis, a prominent LGBTQ rights activist and businesswoman, will get their due.
The murals will offer visitors “a quick glimpse of where we have come from and where we are going,” said Springfield artist Michelle “Micki” Smith.
“It’s an opportunity to bridge the communities and highlight individuals who many may not be aware of for their contributions to Springfield and Sangamon County and Illinois as a whole,” said Angela Harris, the president of Pioneer Park Neighborhood Association and a member of the mural advisory committee. “We just thought it would resonate within the community for young and old and those visiting the center at Springfield.”
Committee members gave the artists ideas of what they were looking for in terms of some historical figures and places, but the artists did their own research as well and “we didn’t want to limit any creativity,” Smith said. “Both muralists did an awesome job with researching Sangamon County, Springfield and the area and how they could put something together that was really reflective of and would represent us accurately.”
Forty-nine artists from across the country sent in work for consideration, including some local artists, Smith said.
“It boiled down to a matter of what we were looking for and experience,” Smith said.
Bader’s mural features several “street scenes” and images of historic and modern-day transportation modes.
It includes the Wabash Railroad Depot, located at 10th and Washington streets that served the city from 1868 to 1938, and the Brown Hotel (or the Hotel Brown, later known as the Dudley Hotel), the only hotel open to Blacks in the city in the early 1900s.
A. Morris Williams, who helped build the hotel at 11th and Adams, was one of the first Black attorneys in Sangamon County. Williams sued the city on behalf of victims of the 1908 Springfield Race Riots.
Bader’s mural also highlights photographer Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm, who documented Black life in the city for over 50 years, and Elizabeth Brown Ide, who advocated for children’s well-being and was one of the founders of the Springfield Mental Health Center.
Figures like Monroe and Wells and Dr. Edwin Lee, a prominent Black physician, and Susan Lawrence Dana, a socialite and philanthropist who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build what is now the Dana-Thomas House State Historic Site, bookend Lincoln and Obama on Mastrion’s mural.
“There was debate,” Smith said, “about do we put Abe Lincoln on this because we have him on so much (around Springfield) already, but then again, how do you not put him on there?”
The committee is hoping to have QR codes at each of the murals that will provide links to additional information about the figures and places featured.
Bader’s mural, which will be done in acrylic and measures 61.5 feet wide by 31.5 feet high will be visible from 11th Street and the new SMTD transfer station.
A spray paint artist, Mastrion’s 61 feet wide by 47 feet high mural will be installed on a wall that will face the railroad tracks along the 10th Street corridor and the new Amtrak station that is planned as part of the new hub.
“The colors, the contents are just vibrant and will stand out in that area,” Harris said.
“The first thing you do is say ‘Wow’ when you see (the murals),” she said. “That’s really what I was looking for from an artistic standpoint. I wanted to make sure whatever mural we put up there was going to first draw someone’s attention.
“They’re bright, they’re comforting, but they draw you in to see what the history is that’s actually there. It adds some aesthetic value to an otherwise pretty modern hub.”
A lifelong Springfield resident, Smith admitted the renderings of the transportation center “blew me away.”
“I think a lot of Springfield residents are going to be completely stunned when they see what this hub is really going to be,” Smith said. “It’s going to be way more than just buses and trains.”
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, [email protected], twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.