A mural on a wall outside Dellwood Tire and Auto Repair in Lockport that features various modes of transportation painted in a three-dimensional style.

A mural on a wall outside Dellwood Tire and Auto Repair in Lockport features various modes of transportation painted in a three-dimensional style.

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A train, a wagon and a canal: Lockport mural gives a nod to city’s transportation history

The Will County city on the Illinois and Michigan Canal once helped make Chicago a transportation hub. Artist Robert Ryan brought that to life in trompe-l’oeil style.

Roll in to Dellwood Tire and Auto Repair in Lockport, and you might find yourself staring down a train.

You aren’t in danger. It’s a 3-D mural painted on an outside wall of the tire store that features a train, a tractor, an old-fashioned pickup truck, an 18-wheeler and a horse-drawn ice wagon, with a plane overhead in the distance.

From a distance, though, the images look like they might leap out at you. For instance, the lamps painted at either side of the actual door to the store at 711 S. State St. seem to shine bright.

It’s the work of Robert Ryan.

He painted this slice of Americana as part of an art initiative called “unLOCK: Merging Art and Industry in Downtown Lockport,” which, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, commissioned 11 artists to create works focused on the city’s history.

Ryan, 58, says his aim was “to describe what I felt like is part of what made the history of Lockport great and what built it up, which was primarily transportation.”

Murals

Chicago’s murals & mosaics


Part of a series on public art. More murals added every week.

Ryan’s piece, completed over the course of two months in the summer of 2018, is the only mural in the project.

“I’ve always enjoyed trompe-l’oeil painting,” he says, referring to a technique — French for “deceive the eye” — that uses realistic imagery to create an illusion that objects are popping out in three dimensions from a flat surface. “This was my chance to do something like that outside.

“I also just thought it’d be fun to change the building because, if you’d seen it prior, it was just a flat wall with short, glass-block windows, just very uninteresting and industrial.”

The mural pays homage to the Will County city’s history. Lockport sits along the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which, during the time it operated, connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico and helped make Chicago a transportation hub in an era before the railroads came.

The canal — which hasn’t been a working waterway for transportation since the 1930s — also can be seen in the mural.

Ryan, who grew up in Oak Forest and lives in Lockport, says his career in art began as a sign painter working on billboards and walls in downtown Chicago for Nike, American Airlines and other advertisers. These days, he says he mostly does commissioned interior work.

A horse-drawn carriage with two girls petting the horse in Robert Ryan’s mural, featuring various modes of transportation, at 711 S. State St. in Lockport.

A horse-drawn carriage is one of the modes of transportation Robert Ryan featured in his mural at 711 S. State St. in Lockport.

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He liked the idea of getting back outside and again working on such a big scale.

“It was something larger that I could design myself, and it was going back to my roots,” he says of the Lockport mural. “I really wanted to get to do something large outside. So this just seemed perfect for me to get back outside, get my feet moving.

“I’m kind of hoping that maybe soon we can either change it or do something new on it because the size was perfect.”

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

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