Walls as Canvas

Murals in the Public Eye
by Kaylyn Kuzniar

Among the works of public art on display in Peoria, murals are abundant. Painted directly onto a permanent surface—a wall or ceiling, for example—murals typically incorporate the architectural and unique thematic qualities of the surface while creating the illusion of additional space in and around the given area. Like all art in the public arena, their presence attracts attention and helps to develop a unique sense of place. And behind every mural is a story…

Corner of Water & State

 This bold mural by Lonnie Stewart and Mariam Graff illustrates the history of Mardi Gras from pagan times to the Jazz Age. Named after the Le Vieux Carre building on which it is painted, it echoes the neighborhood’s “French Quarter” theme. The artists painted directly on the old brick building, accounting for mortar crevices and uneven bricks within the image. “We wanted to make a big, colorful statement, like a 24-hour celebration,” notes Graff. Completed in four months, the mural features well-known Peorians, from the historical (Henri De Tonti) to the contemporary (Pat Sullivan and Gary Sandberg, among others). Both artists make cameos as well, along with Graff’s treasured pet Corgi, Beebah.


Running Central

Completed in six months by Pam Brubaker and Tim Beck, this mural at the corner of Main and Sheridan is an eye-catcher. Running Central owner Adam White notes that the prosthesis was not in the original sketch, nor in the original drawing on the building. “One day, in the early stages of the mural, as Tim and Pam were painting, I walked across Sheridan to take a look from the other side of the street,” says White. “I stared at it for a few minutes, trying to figure out what was ‘missing.’ Then it came to me.”

White consulted the artists and his wife about adding a prosthesis, and they all agreed that the new addition really portrayed the heart, soul and mission of the business in one giant picture—that anyone, at any age and at any speed, can “get there from here.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” adds White. “It is a challenging task for specialty stores to convey to the public why their respective stores offer something of significantly higher value than the big-box and online alternatives.” For Running Central, this mural has been a unique way to help convey that message.


O’brien Field, Downtown Peoria

The Born Paint Company contacted artist Mariam Graff as the Peoria Chiefs’ O’Brien Field was going up nearly a decade ago. Painted on panels in her studio, this mural faces one of the stadium’s entrances and offers fans a fun visual, incorporating elements of the long-running paint supply retailer. “I gave them a rough—very rough!—sketch of a concept to create a fantasy world with their products,” says Graff.

A dog lover who specializes in dog portraits, Graff used her skills to create a whimsical animal scene complete with paint samples in fur and an empty paint-bucket chandelier. Beebah the Corgi again makes an appearance, along with Kubrick, Graff’s Standard Poodle. The initials of the company’s owner’s grandfather can be found on the pocket of the lion.


400 Block of Water Street

Another Lonnie Stewart/Mariam Graff collaboration stands in the Le Vieux Carre parking lot across the street from the Mardi Gras mural. Owner Pat Sullivan had a specific image in mind for this piece, which is painted on a remnant of a concrete railway pylon. “Pat Sullivan has such a reverence for the original surfaces of his buildings the murals were meant to enhance,” says Graff, “or in the case of the little railway monument, to attract a passerby to the concrete itself.”

One day, while hard at work, Graff literally stopped a train. Eyeing the mural in progress, an engineer slowed his locomotive to talk with the artist about the piece and train history. Beebah the Corgi appears yet again, along with a portrait of Graff’s grandparents, Clifton and Jessie Suydam. The man in the hat is said to be Sullivan’s grandfather.


Peoria Heights

Haley Gray’s mural may be tucked away in an alley in Peoria Heights, but its size, color and subject matter are front and center, drawing attention to global equality and exemplifying everything that Global Village, a fair-trade shop in the Heights, stands for.

It took Gray, then 14, over 50 hours, to complete the 19’ by 9’ painting on the Global Village building. The teenager painted on Sundays to accommodate her busy school and cross country schedule at Metamora Township High School. 

Gray, who has studied at the Sun Foundation and with artist Preston Jackson, was commissioned to paint the mural after visiting the store with her grandmother to buy fair trade coffee for a class project during her eighth-grade year. When her grandmother showed the store’s volunteers a painting of an Ethiopian boy from an image on her cell phone, they asked Gray if she would be interested in painting a mural.

Gray presented her ideas at a Global Village board meeting and was hired to paint the mural, which she started last August. The mural itself represents all of humanity picking from the same tree. The tree, painted as half the world, comprises the backdrop, from which an African man, an Asian boy and an Indian woman are picking international produce. The young artist signed the mural at the October dedication, adding another fine piece of public art to the Peoria area.


Madison Theatre

This mural was painted on the side of the historic theater during the 1991-1992 school year by Bradley University students, who were in a class taught by Paul Flexner, then an associate professor of art at the university.



Artist Jonathon Romain painted these murals on the side of Peoria’s Roosevelt Magnet School last spring.






The four murals outside the Carver Center in Peoria depict slaves in captivity, the 1898 Rough Riders, George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King, Jr. According to “The Peoria Area Gallery,” a 2004 ArtsPartners publication, the murals were painted by Charles Hunter.

The 1898 Rough Riders, famously led by future President Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War, featured many African-American soldiers among their ranks. These soldiers played
a significant role in the American victory at San Juan Hill in Cuba.



Main Street

These murals by Vin Luong and Harry Mazumo add color to the brick and concrete at the buzzing intersection of University and Main. The exterior murals offer a taste of the decorative wall paintings, framed artwork and global menu options inside. a&s



Local historian Dr. Peter Couri provides insight into several of the city’s most famous historical murals.

Peoria City Hall

Located above the mayor’s chair in the City Council Chambers at Peoria’s historic City Hall, this mural by Will Peaco, a traveling artist from St. Louis, was painted in 1912 and contains buildings and symbols of the city from the turn of the last century. The three women are the muses of good government, education and medicine.


“PEORIA, AUGUST 29, 1831”
Peoria City Hall

Another gem at Peoria City Hall, this mural by Frank Peyraud and Hardesty Maratta is the first depiction of early Peoria. It was inspired by a drawing by an area farmer, John Roberts, who sketched the city from the east bank of the Illinois River. In the 1860s, Roberts’ home in Morton was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Peyraud, one of the nation’s great landscape artists, also painted murals in the homes of Peoria’s whiskey barons and at the Peoria Women’s Club.


Hotel Père Marquette

This work by George Matthews Harding graces the walls of the hotel’s Cotillion Room. “This mural is by far the most historically accurate,” says Dr. Couri. Harding actually traveled to France, seeking out LaSalle’s relatives to capture his portrait and conducting extensive research on swords and other items in order to portray them properly.


Hotel Père Marquette

Another Harding piece depicts the hotel’s namesake, the famous French missionary Father Jacques “Père” Marquette, who first explored this region in 1673. One of the greatest muralists of the 1920s, Harding came to Peoria when the hotel was under construction. a&s

Source URL: http://ww2.peoriamagazines.com/as/2011/may-jun/walls-canvas