This mural at 15th and Morgan streets was painted by Nick Goettling in 2013, depicting the old Maxwell Street market and its environs.

This mural at 15th and Morgan streets was painted by Nick Goettling in 2013, depicting the old Maxwell Street market and its environs.

Provided

Maxwell Street mural spotlights the history of the storied market and neighborhood

Nick Goettling aimed to keep the memory of the once-bustling marketplace alive in the mural he painted on a retaining wall near 15th and Morgan streets.

SHARE Maxwell Street mural spotlights the history of the storied market and neighborhood
SHARE Maxwell Street mural spotlights the history of the storied market and neighborhood

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Maxwell Street was home to a bustling open-air market where you could find almost anything for sale and at a good price if you knew how to bargain.

Maxwell Street and the surrounding neighborhood was home, too, to many of the Jewish immigrants who operated those stalls and stores, often living in apartments above them.

Chicago’s murals and mosaics sidebar

Chicago’s murals & mosaics

Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.

From the 1940s on, it also was the center of a lively blues scene.

All of that faded over time as the Dan Ryan Expressway was built right through the fabled street, Mayor Richard J. Daley built the University of Illinois at Chicago and his son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, turned over what little remained by then of Maxwell Street to clout-heavy developers and further expansion for UIC.

You won’t find much in the faux Maxwell Street that’s there today to evoke the once-thriving marketplace.

But Nick Goettling says he aimed to keep the memory of Maxwell Street alive in the 82-feet-long and 12-feet-tall mural he painted on a retaining wall near 15th and Morgan streets in what’s known today as University Village.

It spotlights key moments in Maxwell Street’s history.

There’s a group of immigrants working on a railroad. Take a closer look, and you’ll see a train in the images of the workers and the faint outline of Chicago’s railroad system above.

“The mural itself is like a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ because there’s images within images in there,” says Nancy Plax, who’s lived in the neighborhood since 2007 and was involved in commissioning the mural.

Nick Goettling works on images of barrels near the center of a mural at 15th and Morgan streets depicting the old Maxwell Street market.

Nick Goettling works on images of barrels near the center of a mural at 15th and Morgan streets depicting the old Maxwell Street market.

Provided

Goettling says he wanted the mural’s impact to be felt whether people walk right by or live in an apartment building that overlooks it or even if they’re driving past.

“It was really important to have different scales of meaning and of detail,” says Goettling, 37. “When you’re up close, you can capture those little details.”

Nick Goettling, 37, in front of a mural he completed near Northeastern Illinois University.

Nick Goettling, 37, in front of a mural he completed near Northeastern Illinois University.

Provided

Goettling says that by hiding little details within the larger images he hoped to make the mural feel fresh even to people who see it every day, giving them something different to notice each time.

That layering of imagery can be seen throughout the mural.

One section shows Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, founders of nearby Hull House, the settlement house located on what’s now part of the UIC campus that, beginning in 1889, provided day care and other social services to the immigrants who poured in to the area from Europe. Goettling gives a nod to the distances they had to travel by embedding the images of a suitcase and pair of train tickets in the figures of Addams and Starr.

“My thinking was: You have all these groups of people and all the communities that have come and gone and left their footprint,” Goettling says. “So, within the figures, you kind of see the work they did in the community in a lot of cases.”

The center of the mural features the Maxwell Street market, which drew people from all over and from a wide range of backgrounds, as buyers and sellers, everyone coming together in search of a bargain.

The northern end of Nick Goettling’s mural at 15th and Morgan streets depicts students graduating — a reference to the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

The northern end of Nick Goettling’s mural at 15th and Morgan streets portrays students graduating — a reference to the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

There’s also a scene of a man playing guitar as people dance across a backdrop of sheet music.

A vintage-style microphone can be seen within the image of a dancing woman in Nick Goettling’s 2013 mural at 15th and Morgan streets.

A vintage-style microphone can be seen within the image of a dancing woman in Nick Goettling’s 2013 mural at 15th and Morgan streets.

Provided

Next to that is a man with a chicken on his head — an homage to one of Maxwell Street’s famed characters.

“He was called ‘Chicken Man,’” says Plax, 70. “His name was Casey Jones, and he trained over 200 live chickens and performed with them and his accordion over the years in the market.”

The mural at 15th and Morgan streets shows “Chicken Man” playing the accordion with a chicken on his head.

The mural at 15th and Morgan streets shows “Chicken Man” playing the accordion with a chicken on his head.

Kyle Brown / Sun-Times

University Village residents raised money and commissioned Goettling to do the mural at a cost of about $12,000, according to Plax. It took about six weeks to complete and was unveiled in late 2013.

Neighborhood residents put together a “Mural on Morgan” coloring book to raise money for the mural.

Neighborhood residents put together a “Mural on Morgan” coloring book to raise money for the mural.

Kyle Brown / Sun-Times

The mural was among the first for Goettling, a Tacoma, Washington, native who says he has produced more than a dozen other works of public art around Chicago.

Plax says the aim was to bring Maxwell Street’s history alive and also to brighten the viaduct so people “can walk through and feel good and see some beautiful art.”

Nick Goettling working on the mural at 15th and Morgan streets.

Nick Goettling working on the mural at 15th and Morgan streets.

Provided

Nick Goettling’s mural near Northeastern Illinois University’s campus along the Kennedy Expressway depicts large figures holding up the bridge overpass.

Nick Goettling’s mural near Northeastern Illinois University’s campus along the Kennedy Expressway depicts large figures holding up the bridge overpass.

Provided

Nick Goettling’s murals for the Chicago Mosaic School on Granville Avenue by a CTA Red Line L stop.

Nick Goettling’s murals for the Chicago Mosaic School on Granville Avenue by a CTA Red Line L stop.

Provided

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals

The Latest
Said Harris at a YMCA in Plainfield: “Today, as of right now, as of this minute, we can only talk about what Roe v. Wade protected. Past tense.”
Anger over the Supreme Court’s opinion overturning its landmark Roe v. Wade decision brought many to Federal Plaza in the Loop on Friday night.
Women don’t matter and they shouldn’t have agency over their own bodies, the conservative justices might as well have said in their support for Justice Samuel Alito’s abhorrent opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.
With the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Roe v. Wade has been overturned.