Best 100-year-old murals

Fine Arts Building

Did they ever think we would look at them enviously a century later and try to imagine being them—artists and writers and social reformers, all occupying Chicago's first artists colony, downtown? Harriet Monroe started Poetry: A Magazine of Verse here, where others were working on the Dial, the Little Review, the Saturday Evening Post. This was the home of the state suffrage group. Portrait painter Ralph Clarkson started a salon called the Little Room in his studio, joined by author Hamlin Garland, architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, and commercial artists Frank X. and Joseph C. Leyendecker. The brothers organized the painting of eight murals, all art nouveau-esque, featuring nymphs, angels, scantily clad outdoorswomen, and Greek figures. You can still take the human-operated elevator up to the tenth floor and see the murals. Stroll down the hallway, accompanied, as I was the other day, by violin playing on one side of the hall and notes from a cello on the other, and you'll see plaques marking the studios of famous former tenants: Frank Lloyd Wright, illustrator John T. McCutcheon, sculptor Lorado Taft. One night in April this year musicians presented an evening of poetry in the Fine Arts. In a hundred years, will wistful artists look back at that performance and yearn for the cross-pollination in the arts of 21st century Chicago, when the building tenanted visual artists, music and voice teachers, photographers, dancers, designers, and architects? —S.L. Wisenberg