That is, until he returned to Chicago and went back to work on a mural he’d started before she died. That’s when he says he felt “something under my wings.”
“The flow and feel of me creating was when I felt where my grandmother was,” Teller says.
Featuring the migratory Nelson’s sparrow, the mural on an exterior wall of an apartment building at 835 W. Montrose Ave. is a nod to the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary that’s just east of there.
But Teller wanted it to represent something more. So he added a bit of purple to honor his “Nanny,” Eleanor Grant.
“Everything she had was purple,” says Teller, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida.
In her younger days, Grant danced with the Radio City Rockettes and was an actress in New York.
Uptown United, an organization that focuses on neighborhood development, oversaw the mural, which is titled “An Ode to Eleanor (Youth).”
Around the same time last summer, Teller also painted a mural titled “If Only You Knew” at 4628 N. Clifton Ave.
Teller compared his unlikely spiritual encounter to the movie “Angels in the Outfield,” a lighthearted baseball movie in which angels help the underdogs to victory. Teller likens sports to creativity.
“Anything you’re passionate about in life can take you to that perfect state of your mind,” he says.
Teller says the Montrose mural is meant to act as a “corridor” to the bird sanctuary. The featured Nelson’s sparrow’s population has been declining, according to the National Audubon Society. But sightings of the Nelson’s sparrow are reported every year at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, according to the society’s Lake-Cook chapter.
Grant and his other late grandmother, Rosalie Teller, were his “angels” during the process, Teller says, giving him confidence.
Both grandmothers guided him through his art career and had done creative work themselves — Grant as an actress and dancer and Teller as an artist.
While Teller was growing up, he remembers Grant was “always there” to drive him to school or baseball practice and encourage him to “take things to the next level,” especially in his art.
“She was a confidence-booster — and that’s what grandmas need to be,” Teller says.
Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals