Artist Joe Nelson says he used an online survey to get ideas from people in Chatham about what to include in his mural at a Walmart store at 8331 S. Stewart Ave.

Artist Joe Nelson says he used an online survey to get ideas from people in Chatham about what to include in his mural at a Walmart store at 8331 S. Stewart Ave.

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After 2020 unrest, the artist known as CUJO gave Chatham Walmart a mural makeover

‘There’s a lot of great things that happen on the South Side and great stories that don’t get told,’ says artist Joe Nelson. ‘And I’m happy to contribute to some of the great things.’

Commissioned by Walmart to do a mural in Chatham at a store that was looted and damaged during last year’s civil unrest, artist Joe Nelson knew he wanted to incorporate neighborhood residents’ thoughts in the work.

So, faced with limitations because of the coronavirus pandemic, he put together an online survey to ask for their help.

Chicago’s murals and mosaics sidebar

Chicago’s murals & mosaics


Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. Know of a mural or mosaic? Tell us where and send a photo to murals@suntimes.com. We might do a story on it.

“I was definitely forced to rethink of the way I interact with the community,” says Nelson, 43, who creates art under the name CUJO. “We aren’t able to sit down in a room and talk and have meetings.”

Joe Nelson says suggestions from an online survey helped determine the words he included in his mural at a Chatham Walmart store.

Joe Nelson says suggestions from an online survey helped determine the words he included in his mural at a Chatham Walmart store.

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“I asked them literally: ‘What words do you want here?’ And: ‘Is there something else you would like to see that’s not shown?’ ” says Nelson, who grew up and still lives on the South Side.

He says he came up with the overall theme — of unity and togetherness — for the mural at the store at 8331 S. Stewart Ave. and had people vote on details of the piece through a multiple-choice survey he promoted through social media and flyers. About 130 people responded.

Their answers helped decide everything from the color scheme to the bungalows in the background.

The Chatham Walmart mural is made up of 16 panels. The biggest weighs nearly 90 pounds.

The Chatham Walmart mural is made up of 16 panels. The biggest weighs nearly 90 pounds.

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The mural features images of four well-known people who had ties to the neighborhood: attorney Eugene Pincham, gospel music pioneer Thomas Dorsey, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and U.S. Rep. Charles Hayes.

Nelson also included images of three children to represent “the future of Chatham,” one in a baseball jersey, another in a shirt representing Simeon Career Academy and the third reading a book.

After the store was looted and damaged following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, it remained closed for months.

Walmart got in touch with Nelson through a group called NOW Art. He wasn’t aware of the damage to the store when it happened but says he was inspired to take on the project because his family and friends frequent the store.

“Any time a large corporation says, ‘Hey, Joe, I want to work with you on this project,’ if it doesn’t fit, I won’t do it,” Nelson says. “But I feel like that image is a good image, and it tells a great story.”

Walmart reopened the store last November, adding a health center to offer primary care.

The mural took about six months in all to make happen, including about six weeks to produce the artwork on the panels, according to Nelson, who had help preparing and painting the panels from friends and the group My Block, My Hood, My City.

The words on the mural, including “Peace,” “Community,” “Safety” and “Hope” at the bottom center, were submitted by neighborhood residents through Nelson’s survey.

Joe Nelson grew up and lives on the South Side. Here, he’s seen during the early stages of creating the mural.

Joe Nelson grew up and lives on the South Side. Here, he’s seen during the early stages of creating the mural.

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“There’s a lot of great things that happen on the South Side and great stories that don’t get told,” Nelson says. “There’s a lot of beauty. And I’m happy to contribute to some of the great things that are happening.”

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

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