Monday, June 26, 2006

Madison Labor History Murals, Part One: Preliminary Sketches

There are no labor murals in Madison, but there will be by the time Labor Day 2006 arrives.

Late Wednesday afternoon, I happened to see a notice for a public program at the Madison Labor Temple "Welcoming Madison's New Labor Mural." I decided to make a trip over to South Park Street to photograph the murals and hear what the scholars (one of whom has a Central connection by association) had to say about them.

It's been a long time since I visited the Labor Temple, but I remembered the front door was usually locked in the evening, and the only door likely to be open was the door leading to the smoke-filled bar. So I didn't bother trying to enter via the front door. That's why I missed a major clue about the status of the mural. It was a sign located at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor (which I photographed after the public program).

When I entered the meeting room where the program was being held, I saw a lot of familiar faces, including that of Madison Central alumna Sue Vilbrandt, managing editor of Union Labor News. There wasn't much time to chat with Sue because the program began soon after I arrived. That's when I learned the murals were a work in progress rather than a fait accompli.

According to Jim Cavanaugh, president of the South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL), the original impetus for the murals came from a series of photographs of labor murals in Chicago, published in the February 2005 issue of the Union Labor News. Inspired by the photographs, Marcus Nickel, "a stonecutter by trade and a muralist by avocation," called Cavanaugh to ask about labor murals in Madison. After some doing some research, Cavanaugh brought an idea for commissioning labor history murals for some large walls in the Labor Temple to the Madison Labor Temple Association. Its members were very enthusiastic about the idea, but they also wanted to solicit input from union members and the community at large about what should be depicted in the mural.

The SCFL website uses frames, so I can't provide links to a lot of the information on the site related to the labor history mural, but if you go to the SCFL's home page, you should be able to navigate to several interesting areas of information, including photos of Chicago labor murals and a series of labor history photographs from Madison that were posted to provide some inspiration and suggestions about what the murals might include.

Marcus Nickel is painting the labor history murals at the Madison Labor Temple. An unveiling ceremony -- featuring Mayor Dave and who knows what other local politicians and celebrities -- is scheduled for August 31, 2006, the Thursday before Labor Day.

Nickel has just started to outline the mural images on the walls of the Labor Temple. The one shown on the left, of a man wearing a hardhat, is on the left side of the interior wall that frames the front doors to the Labor Temple.

At Wednesday's program, there were large sketches of the three of the murals that will be painted in the Labor Temple. I photographed all three sketches, so you can have an idea of what the murals will look like when they're completed. The murals will be in color, but only small portions had been colored in on the sketches.

You can see the man in the hardhat in the lower left hand corner of the first sketch. The blank space in the center of the drawing represents the doors.

This mural has images from the early days of Madison labor history. The one in the bottom right hand corner, for instance, depicts Madison's first union of printers and typesetters. This image will, if I remember correctly, be on a first floor wall.

This mural has images from more recent events in Madison labor history, including the strike against Madison Newspapers, Inc. in the 1970s. Again, if I remember correctly, this will be on a wall on the second floor of the Labor Temple.

There's much more I'd like to report about Wednesday's program, but it will have to wait a bit. I don't want to lose your attention by writing a post that's too long -- and there are some photos I need to locate that will, I hope, make part two of this series more informative. I think you'll enjoy it once I pull all the pieces together, so come back soon.

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