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Home » Illinois » New Deal/WPA Art in Lake Forest, Illinois

New Deal/WPA Art in Lake Forest, Illinois

There are four murals representing the elements Air, Fire, Water, and Earth, in the Auditorium of the Gorton Community Center (formerly the Edward F. Gorton School). These are the only murals produced in Lake Forest under the Federal Art Project. The artist, Ralf Henricksen, was born on June 22, 1907 in Chicago, the only son of Danish immigrant parents. Henricksen described the Gorton murals as his “most successful.” He died in December 1975 in East Lansing, MI where he had taught for years as an art professor at Michigan State University – East Lansing.

The murals were painted over during the 1960s. Until 1996, the murals were believed to have been destroyed. They were recently rediscovered by two conservators and a restoration campaign initiated by the Gorton Community Center. Restoration is currently being carried out by the Chicago Conservation Center. The following photographs which show the progress of uncovering one of the murals are courtesy of Gail T. Hodges, Director, Gorton Community Center

Photographs courtesy of Gail T. Hodges, Director, Gorton Community Center



The following announcement was made by the CCC:

The Chicago Conservation Center mural restoration project at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest was featured March 30, 2004 on the 4:30 broadcast of ABC 7 news.

The segment detailed the restoration of 4 painted-over murals (previously thought destroyed) by Ralf Henrickson in the Gorton Community Center auditorium. The 4 murals – “Air” “Fire” “Water” and “Earth” were painted in 1936 for what was then Gorton Elementary School. They were the only WPA/FAP project commissioned in Lake Forest.

Over the years the murals, which were located directly above the auditorium heating vents, came to be coated with a thick dirt and particulate layer. In the 1960′s, as a means to “beautify” the school, the principal had the murals painted over. From the 1970′s on, when the school became the Gorton Community Center, the murals were considered destroyed, even by the artist himself.

It was only when Director Gail Hodges was given a photograph of the murals as originally installed, in 1995, that she noticed that the canvas weave was still visible where the murals had been. In 2003, a challenge was issued by the Jamee and Marshall Field Foundation to raise funds for their restoration, a challenge which has now been met. The conservation project itself began in November, 2003, with the restoration of “Fire”. Work continued as “Water” was uncovered in February of 2004, and work is currently underway on “Air”. The project is due to be completed, with the restoration of the last mural, “Earth”, this summer.

The Gorton Community Center is located at 400 East Illinois Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045. Visit their website at: