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Long-hidden mural uncovered during Bone Student Center renovations

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There was a big reveal last week at the Bone Student Center. It wasn’t the introduction of a new restaurant or the opening of a new meeting room. This was a more intimate affair and an important moment for a Redbird family.

About a year ago, Jennifer Peterson ’86, M.S. ’97, Ph.D. ’19, told Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality (EMDH) staff about a mural her father, the late C. Louis Steinburg, created when the Bone Student Center opened in 1973. She thought the large artwork might still be intact behind the Bone Scholar Wall, which was set to be removed as part of an ongoing revitalization of the 46-year-old facility.

EMDH Director Bill Legett did some research and determined the mural was still there. He invited Steinburg’s family to see the painting May 23 after the wall was taken down. The moment was especially poignant considering it was the artist’s birthday.

“To walk in and see it was incredible,” said Peterson. “It’s a very cool memory.”

”That brought tears to my eyes immediately,” said Steinburg’s wife, Joan, noting her husband had died in 2014. “That’s in the past and that’s what I lived through. I always felt like I was right there with him when he was painting.”

C. Louis Steinburg

The late Professor Emeritus C. Louis Steinburg

The mural had meant a lot to the family, who retain strong ties to Illinois State. Steinburg taught painting at the University from 1959–1993, and a scholarship started by a School of Art alum is named in his honor. Peterson has earned three degrees at Illinois State and is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences. Her brother, Rick, is an alum. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in art education in 1978. Both of Jennifer’s children also attended Illinois State.

The family did not know the title of the mural. Joan wasn’t sure what her husband had in mind when he created the painting, though that was typical of the improvisational nature of his practice. Nature inspired the abstract painter, and rectangles featured in much of his art at the time. “Did we ever know what he was going to paint?” Joan said.

Joan said her husband felt honored to have had the opportunity to make such a large work in a prominent space on campus. The painting was located next to the Spotlight Room near the west-side entrance to the first-level concourse. “It was a big part of the Bone. You walked into it, and there it was.”

The mural was covered up in the 1980s when the Bone Scholar Wall was installed, Peterson said. Though the mural cannot be preserved, Legett is working to have pieces of the painting cut out and given to the family as mementos.

“When he painted it, he knew it was not going to be a permanent thing,” Joan said.

Peterson thanked Legett for following up on her inquiry and allowing the family to see the mural before it is taken down.

“It really meant a lot to me that he cared,” Peterson said. “We had pictures and we had memories but we hadn’t seen it in a long time.”

Kevin Bersett can be reached at kdberse@IllinoisState.edu.

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