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'Where's Waldo?' Quality to New Mural

Evanston artist changes the ambiance for staff and visitors at school headquarters.

Standing in the entrance of the Evanston-Skokie School District 65 building, Superintendent Hardy Ray Murphy Jr. put his hands on his hips and leaned back to admire a new 77-foot long mural.

"See the children there?" he asked, pointing at children who appear in various scenes. "Isn't that cool?"

Called "Into Their Own Light," it depicts a group of children in a forest walking together toward a light. This last piece completes the three-panel mural, which Murphy started painting in March.

The new mural along the side walls continues the children's journey as they follow the light throughout real Evanston locations. They visit places like the lighthouse, beach, sledding hill and the district building, where the mural ends. Upon entering the building, the main mural can be seen on the back wall and is an extension of a piece that the district unveiled in March.

"There's this 'Where's Waldo' thing that attracts everyone's attention, since it's the same five kids everywhere," he said.  "When kids come in, they can look for them."

Artist and Evanston resident C. Paul Barker created both murals.  He said he wanted each scene to show children enjoying nature, something he said was becoming rare in a technology -- driven world.

"It's kids doing fun things that don't involve an electric outlet or battery, and I made it Evanston specific," Barker said.

Barker is no stranger to the Evanston-Skokie school district.  Last year, he donated a futuristic painting to Haven Middle School and spent a day talking to its students to explain his work and artistic process.

Barker has lived in Evanston for 20 years, but he said he has created murals for institutions throughout the United States. In Chicago, he has painted murals for the Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium.

He said he started painting full-time in 1982, and had previously been an elementary teacher and cabinet makter and served in Vietnam. 

Barker donated some of his time to the new mural to help discount the price, even though it was privately funded.  Despite the intricate detailed work, it only took Barker a little over a week to complete it, finishing the project by mid-August. 

Even before Barker finished the mural, visitors to the district building took time to stop and look at the piece.  According to Patricia Markham, the communications director for the district, the mural has already had a big effect at the administrative building, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

"This has changed the whole ambiance of the foyer," Markham said. "It's a lot more welcoming to families now."

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