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Mayers, Leah

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Vespine Studios-Gallery

1907 South Halsted 1F

Chicago, IL 60608
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Website: Vespine Studios-Gallery Website

Leah Mayers is a founding member of the Vespine Studios & Gallery collective. She is a book and paper maker and a teaching artist with an MFA from Columbia Collegeâ€â"¢s Book and Paper Center and a MEd from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She currently works as an Artist in Residence for Columbia Collegeâ€â"¢s Project AIM and a part-time faculty member in Columbia Collegeâ€â"¢s Educational Studies Graduate Program.

During the 1970s, on my way to and from elementary school in Hyde Park, I would pass some of the murals painted on the walls of the viaducts along Lake Park Avenue. During these walks, I would dream of being an artist and a writer. I marveled at how the murals combined an image and a message, and I loved how they were out on the street. I learned that art could be a political and public force.

The murals were painstakingly detailed and beautifully rendered, full of color and emotion. They were big and public, like billboards. Yet the viewer who stopped to study the image was rewarded with an intimate visual narrative of a particular time and place. Each told a story of politics, the environment, race relations, oppression, or social justice. I loved these mural walls in part because they were made by people from my community. The murals were part of my early belief that the world cared about art, and that artists cared about the world.

During the summer of 1988, home from college for the first time in several years, I watched all of the murals become obscured by the ravages of nature and teenagers with something to say and nowhere else to say it. That summer, I took about 50 photographs of most of the murals, just ahead of the panels of white paint that appeared over the disintegrating images.

Today as a book artist, I know the murals shaped my career, teaching me that an artist can say and show simultaneously. A book, available for the world to see, yet read by individual readers, is public and intimate.

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