On a recent bright and sunny Saturday, Luis Diaz, a student at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, was crouched low, at 111th and Cottage Grove.
Frozen, he held the position for a duration, the camera in his hands seemingly an extension of the limb, his only movement the occasional shutter click.
Diaz, 16, was stalking artist Rahmaan Statik with his camera, documenting Statik as he painted images he’d created on a lengthy mural running along both sides of the viaduct under the Pullman neighborhood Metra stop.
The artist has been working on the Pullman Prospective Mural almost four weeks. Diaz, a resident of Pullman, has tailed him for just as long.
“This is really nice. Oftentimes our community is known for like, a lot of potholes and messed up areas, but now people coming into the area will be able to see a different view,” the soft-spoken reed of a teen said.
Diaz was selected by the mural’s sponsor, Sherwin-Williams, to chronicle the mural’s progress as it moves toward its Oct. 30 completion.
A joint project of local community groups and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Pullman mural is the newest herald for tourism in this area that was declared a National Monument by then President Barack Obama in 2015.
For Diaz, whose parents are factory workers and have three other children, the stipend from the Pullman mural project has been the answer to his funding dilemma over the school’s upcoming cultural immersion trip to Spain, Portugal and France.
The Pullman Historic District was home to the first planned industrial town in the U.S. It was built by George Pullman, owner of the railway company that produced the famed Pullman sleeping cars and employed the equally famed Pullman Porters.
The community is home to such historical sites as the Pullman factory, Hotel Florence and A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, and the majority of images within the mural were culled from the Historic Pullman Foundation.
“So Obama’s over here on the South mural, George Pullman just across on the North mural. It’s designed so that the larger impact images are on the outside, while the inside tells a story of a manufacturer who created an entire economy,” Statik says, pointing out images as he strolled one end to the other.
The 37-year-old artist, whose prolific work includes such prominent murals as a group of 43 completed under the city of Rosemont’s Mural Initiative, typically engages teen artists with his work. Students from Gwendolyn Brooks and four other Chicago public high schools — Carver Military Academy, Corliss High, Fenger Academy and Harlan Community Academy, were recruited to work alongside him, filling in outlines of the design the artist created.
Here’s how the mural became Diaz’ blessing. The artist’s budget included a $500 stipend for a photographer, and Statik planned to retain a professional. Sherwin-Williams, with one of its oldest factories in Pullman — operating since the late 1800s — donated paint for the project. Then it decided to hire a separate photographer to create a time-lapse video, also for a $500 stipend.
Sherwin-Williams then offered the project to Gwendolyn Brooks, the closest school, where photography teacher Jacob Mitchell knew exactly who to ask.
A member of the school’s soccer and track teams, Diaz had taken classes with Mitchell for three years, and had fallen in love with photography. When the school announced its annual foreign immersion trip, Diaz desperately wanted to go, and take his camera.
To try to save up the money, Diaz got a job at a local pizza joint, squeezed into after-school sports. But when Sherwin-Williams learned of his dilemma, the company got the artist to hire Diaz too, which will mean a cool $1,000 for his trip. It’s why the teen has been following the artist these four weeks, never missing a day of photographing the work, as he compiles footage for the video.
“A lot of kids who want to go on these trips can’t. Because of the income level of families in the community, their options are so limited,” says his teacher. “Luis is just a great kid — responsible and artistic and motivated. I really wanted it for him. It’s just such a blessing that everything came together.”
Said Diaz: “I’m just so grateful. I mean, without this, I’d just be struggling on my own to see if I could come up with the money. I’ve never really been anywhere too far from Chicago, and I really wanted to go to another country, to expand my knowledge and see more than just the box that I’m in now. “