If you’ve driven northbound on Interstate 43 toward Milwaukee’s downtown, chances are, you’ve noticed a gigantic mural. That colorful mural has caught the eye of Tim Brever, of Greendale, since he was a kid. He wanted to learn more about it, so he reached out to Bubbler Talk — our series where you ask, we investigate and together we unveil the answers:
What is the story behind the mural located on the side of a building, coming north into Milwaukee featuring an eagle with a rainbow behind it?
The work is called “The Mural of Peace." It graces the back of a wall at 611 West National Ave., which is in a largely Latino neighborhood. Local artist Reynaldo Hernandez was commissioned in the early 1990s to paint the mural by Richard Oulahan, director of Esperanza Unida, a job training non-profit that was then housed in the building.
"He just gave me one sentence," says Reynaldo. "He wanted to show the diversity of the south side of Milwaukee and show its aspirations and concerns.”
Reynaldo realized that the south side of Milwaukee had the same aspirations and concerns as the city as a whole, as the nation and as the world. “The whole world has the same concerns, like we all want happiness, we all hope for peace,” he adds.
The mural showcases an eagle and a dove facing each other. A cascade of flag stripes jet out from the dove’s back. The dove carries an olive branch in its mouth, and there is a rainbow over the two birds with a sketch of the world’s continents in the back. The flags are from across the globe. All of these are positive images of peace and universality. But if you look more closely, you can see additional layers.
“Then later on, after I was almost done, I started thinking 'well, there’s really not total peace in the world, there’s always tension,'" says Reynaldo. "So, I added the lighting right in the middle of the mural, in back of the globe to show tension — hot spots or war zones.”
If you look at three stripes together, it is one country's flag, but if you go up one stripe, for each group of three, it's another nation's flag.
The mural isn’t directly painted on the cream city brick wall. Instead, it’s made up of nearly 300 panels, each 4-by-8 feet. And Reynaldo made it large for a reason.
"I didn’t want people looking over the freeway, trying to figure out what it is. So, I used large images and the contrast, the white dove, the white bald eagle head against the colors. It looks simple, but there’s thought behind it,” he says.
Jacobo Lovo, the managing artistic director for Latino Arts, remembers being impressed when Reynaldo gave a presentation at his middle school years ago. He says it’s inspirational to see a Latino artist showcase such vibrant art.
“Growing up on the south side and seeing his work, it’s really powerful for me as an artist and someone in the arts world here in Milwaukee,” Jacobo says.
Latino Arts hosts exhibits and offers drumming, visual arts and dance workshops for youth throughout the year. Jacobo explains that murals, in particular, have a strong tradition in Latino culture. He says three Mexican men— Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco — brought social consciousness into the mural movement.
“It’s something that we focus on having our students really think deeply about their surroundings and how their actions will affect our community as a whole, especially as young Latinos growing up in modern United States.”
That social consciousness fit well with the Esperanza Unida organization that worked to foster opportunity for local workers. That organization has ceased operations, and the building was sold and turned into lofts. But the mural still stands. Reynaldo restored it in 2016, after the developer added windows.
Tim, our question asker, was gratified to learn about the mural’s meaning. “We live in a time that’s very politically divided, and I think seeing this message of unity across different countries, with the eagle and the dove, I think it’s really cool to see the intent behind this,” he says.
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