Everything you wanted to know about the mosaic mural at Sheridan but never thought to ask.
At first glance, the mural at Howard Brown Health Sheridan seems normal enough. Titled “A Tradition of Helping,” it depicts three buildings, Hull House on the left, Cook County Hospital in the middle, and Howard Brown Health Sheridan on the right. Two figures stand between them, Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, and a doctor or nurse.
However, if you’re waiting for an appointment, you might have enough time to discover some surprising details. First off, the two figures are absolute giants of Godzilla proportions. They tower over the buildings and everyone in the waiting room as well. Then, all three buildings are lit up from the inside, like there’s a party. Each window features a unique silhouette of a person and sometimes a plant. Beyond the three buildings, which are in reality miles apart, there are no skyscrapers, trees, or other scenery. They seem to exist in an alternate universe of Chicago. Above the two giants and fully illuminated buildings, there’s a brooding sky. The grey and white clouds fold into each other, creating a hypnotizing, wave-like backdrop.
“A Tradition of Helping,” is actually part of a larger urban surrealist movement in Chicago. The artist Roger Brown (1941-1997) was member of a group called the Chicago Imagists who emerged from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in the 1960s and 1970s. They rejected the New York art scene and mixed varied styles with surrealism to discuss urban architecture, social issues, nature, and religion. Brown brought his own folk-art style and approach to architecture to the movement, which are both readily apparent in “A Tradition of Helping.” Regarding the Sheridan mural, his artist statement reads,
“This mosaic represents some of the institutions that offer compassion and aid to the many ethnic, economic and minority groups in the city. Jane Addams started Hull House to aid the influx of European immigrants during the 19th century. Cook County Hospital offers needed medical aid to the poor and outcast. Howard Brown offers healthcare and treatment to the gay and lesbian community, who historically found fear and shame in seeking medical help.”
In 2004, Brown was inducted into The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame. A prolific artist, his body of work covers painting, printmaking, sculpture, and, of course, mosaic murals. The below video shows the richness of his work and style:
The next time you’re at our sexual health walk-in or at Howard Brown Health Sheridan for a medical appointment, take a closer look at the mural. The details might surprise you!