Elgin artist asks city to return controversial 'lynching mural' to him

 
 
Updated 5/11/2018 5:34 PM
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  • Artist David Powers has requested to get back his "American Nocturne" mural that was taken down and stored by the city in 2016. The mural was inspired by a 1930 lynching photo.

      Artist David Powers has requested to get back his "American Nocturne" mural that was taken down and stored by the city in 2016. The mural was inspired by a 1930 lynching photo. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The "American Nocturne" mural that stirred controversy in Elgin is housed in a storage closet in a downtown parking deck. Artist David Powers wants it back.

      The "American Nocturne" mural that stirred controversy in Elgin is housed in a storage closet in a downtown parking deck. Artist David Powers wants it back. Rick West | Staff Photographer

The artist who created the so-called lynching mural that inflamed sentiments in Elgin two years ago has asked the city to have it back.

The Elgin Cultural Arts Commission will discuss the request from artist David Powers at its meeting Monday, commission liaison Amanda Harris said. Powers said he wants to repair the mural and store it, not display it, Harris said.

Powers created the "American Nocturne" mural in 2007 with a group of Judson University art students as an outdoor public art project for the city. Powers was inspired by a 1930 photo of a lynching in Marion, Indiana. The mural depicts the crowd, not the lynching itself, and was displayed outdoors in downtown Elgin.

The correlation went unnoticed until May 2016 when a passer-by spotted the similarity with the photo. A controversy erupted, with city officials saying they didn't know about its origins. Powers said his goal was to shine a spotlight on those who commit evil. After public meetings about the issue, city officials put the mural in storage, where it remains.

Powers didn't respond to calls for comment this week, and nobody answered the door at his Elgin home Thursday.

The mural was part of a series the city commissioned in the 2000s from the Outside Exhibition Group, which included Powers. The recent request for the mural names Powers and the Outside Exhibition Group, Harris said. Group President Paul Pedersen didn't return a request for comment.

Under the city's public art plan, city-owned artwork that is no longer on display can be loaned or donated to nonprofits or educational facilities, or returned to the originating artist. The plan entrusts such decisions to the cultural arts commission.

The plan was approved in December and this is the first request for a retired artwork, Assistant City Manager Laura Valdez said.

"We will keep the (city) council apprised of the decision that is made," Valdez said, "and if there is a desire to have additional conversations about it, that's something that we can bring forward."

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