Three decades before the better known murals of the WPA era, Chicago artist Dorothy Loeb created an immense and powerful mural at Lane Technical High School in 1909. Lost for over half a century, it has recently been recovered and is now poised to be restored and reinstalled at the school.
Loeb studied in Paris with Fernand Léger and at the Art Institute, and she was active in and around Chicago before relocating to Massachusetts in 1940, where she was a well-known modernist in the Provincetown area. In 1908, she was one of five School of the Art Institute students commissioned by Kate Buckingham and her Chicago Public School Art Society to create murals for the new Albert G. Lane Technical High School located at Division and Sheffield. From 1909 to 1913, Loeb and the other four artists — Henry George Brandt, Margaret Hittle, William E. Scott, and George Stevenson –painted a total of eleven murals for specific sites at Lane. Loeb’s 7′ x 19′ oil on canvas, completed in 1909, graced the stage of the school auditorium for many years. While the mural had no official title, it was referred to in various student publications as “A Study in Primitive Forge,” and it depicted a group of tool-bearing workers gathered around a cauldron into which molten metal was being poured. By 1934, an overcrowded Lane moved to its larger (and present) location on Addison and Western. It was assumed that the Loeb mural had not survived the relocation in 1934. But Flora Doody, director of the Mural Restoration Project at Lane, discovered in yearbook photos dating from 1936 to 1952 that the mural had indeed survived the move and graced the wall in Room 113. Sometime in the early 1950s, Loeb’s mural was replaced by a photomural of Chicago.
Cut to Lane Tech 2005, Flora Doody and Chicago conservationist Barry Bauman implement the country’s first-ever high school class on Fine Arts Conservation. Doody organized her student docent team into “MSI: Lane” (mural scene investigation) a spin-off of the popular TV series “CSI: Miami,” to attempt to locate this lost treasure. Clues led them to the Highland Park home of a deceased former teacher, where the mural had most likely been placed in safekeeping and lay in wait for the better part of fifty years.
Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery and the Chicago Public Schools will present an official unveiling of the lost Dorothy Loeb mural at a special reception held Friday, November 11, from 6-8 pm, at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 N. Ashland, 3rd Floor. At 7 pm, Flora Doody and Barry Bauman will unveil the work and give a short presentation about its recovery and restoration. Some of the MSI: Lane student docents as well as members of Bauman’s Fine Arts Conservation class will also be in attendance. The Loeb mural will also be on view on Saturday, November 12 from 11 am to 4 pm.
Dorothy Loeb: The Lost 1909 Mural Unveiled