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329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

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Don McIlvaine Collection

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Collection Identifier: C.2013-02
Preservation Sponsor: South Side Projections, Never the Same
Extent of collection
14 reels of 16mm totaling 12,170 feet; 33 reels of 8mm totaling 2,300 feet; 16 reels of Super 8mm totaling 1,400 feet
Inclusive Dates
1961 - 1972
Bulk Dates
1961 - 1972
Home movies and short films shot or collected by Chicago artist and muralist Don McIlvaine. The collection primarily consists of home movies from Chicago's North Lawndale and Bronzeville neighborhoods, including footage of mural works in progress and scenes from McIlvaine's "Art and Soul" classroom in North Lawndale. The collection also includes home movies documenting McIlvaine's travels, including a trip to Haiti and a young Conservative Vice Lords camping trip. Also in the collection are interview films, one with Chicago Bear's football player Gale Sayers as well as a 1972 interview with American political activist and scholar Angela Davis.
McIlvaine, Don (created by)
Chicago's great mural artist, Don McIlvaine (1930-2005), is known for his large scale street paintings of everyday struggles. Growing up in Washington D.C., McIlvaine attended Sunday morning art classes as a youth with Lois Mailou Jones. She later assisted him in getting a scholarship to study at Howard University. After studying at the Corcoran Art School and the Newark Academy of Art, McIlvaine moved to Chicago in 1957.

McIlvaine (aka "Donnie Mac") was the second director of the North Lawndale-based art gallery, Art & Soul for a six-month period from 1969 to 1970. The gallery, which ran from 1968 to 1972, was a collaborative project between the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and the notorious Chicago street gang, the Conservative Vice Lords (or CVL, Inc.). More on this collaboration via Rebecca Zorach: "How did such a friendship come to exist? The Vice Lords, like other street gangs in the city, had become interested in working on neighborhood problems in a constructive way; they had “gone conservative,” and reinvented themselves as the Conservative Vice Lords, opening several businesses and sponsoring youth programs. Meanwhile, the MCA was brand new, and its director, Jan van der Marck, was interested in how museums could make more of an impact in their communities—their entire communities. And so, ever so tentatively, this friendship formed, and produced an experimental art center called Art & Soul, at 3742 West Sixteenth Street in the neighborhood of North Lawndale on Chicago’s West Side."

Art & Soul also provided the tools and space for young people of North Lawndale to express their thoughts in artistic form. McIlvaine, who was not a Vice Lord, primarily worked with the children to paint powerful, aggressive and insistent murals throughout North Lawndale (Rebecca Zorach). While working with gang youth from 1969 to 1970, McIlvaine elevated mural art to national attention with six dynamic and politically conscious street paintings, including "Black Man's Dilemma." In this particular mural, a figure of death is carrying the Bible while chained to an African American who is clinging to the American flag. At the same time a black angel is pointing toward the African cultural symbol for dignity. McIlvaine said, "when I first planned the Mural, I thought it might be too gruesome to paint outdoors for everyone to see like an outdoors advertisement. But later I realized that what I'd planned was reality." Interviewed for a 1970 Time magazine article about diversity in visual art, McIlvaine declared, "People decorate the street because that's where their life is." McIlvaine's murals have now, tragically, been almost entirely demolished.

McIlvaine's efforts at Art & Soul worked not only toward artistic expression, but also identity building and consciousness raising, two elements of life that were not nurtured in Lawndale children's schools ("Youth Gangs"). In Lord Thing, a film by Dewitt Beall (found in Chicago Film Archives' DeWitt Beall Collection), Don McIlvaine is shown painting a mural of Frederick Douglas with children close by watching him. He asks one boy if he knows who Frederick Douglas was, after McIlvaine talks briefly about the murals of Diego Rivera on the University walls of Mexico City. The boy answers, "He fought for freedom. He graduated. He got married. He died." McIlvaine says "Yes, that's true. But he also became a great statesman and was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln, the only black man invited to speak with Lincoln. Did your teacher tell you that?" The child responds, "I had a white teacher." McIlvaine: "She didn't tell you that?"

McIlvaine also taught art at the University of Illinois at Chicago. McIlvaine passed away in 2005. He is survived by his wife, Herjuanita McIlvaine.

"Youth Gangs: The Conservative Vice Lords and the Power in Self-Determined Change." The Conservative Vice Lords. July 21, 2008. Accessed June 29, 2015. Conservative Vice Lords.

Zorach, Rebecca. "Art & Soul: An Experimental Friendship between the Street and a Museum." Art Jounral, 2011. Accessed June 29, 2015.
Language of Materials
Collection Item
1940s: Swimming - New York City & Harlem etc
1969: West Side Youths Gymnastics & Art and Soul
1961: A Little Bit of Everybody
1961: Birds & Family
1961: Mountain Park Massachusetts