A long-kept secret was recently rediscovered at the Bone Student Center.
Former professor C. Louis Steinburg created a mural for the Bone Student Center, then known as the Student Union Building, when it first opened in 1973. The mural was covered up to make room for the Bone Scholar Wall in the mid-80s. For decades it remained covered from the rest of the world, until Steinburg’s daughter and Department of Sciences Director Jennifer Peterson tried to find it again.
“We all had always wondered if my dad's painting was still there behind the Bone Scholar wall,” Peterson said. “We always assumed that the painting was behind [the wall] but we didn't know for sure.”
As the Bone Student Center continues renovations as a part of the Bone Revitalization, Peterson saw the opportunity to look into the fate of her father’s mural. She spoke with Event, Dining, Management and Hospitality Director Bill Legett, who had the wall removed to find the mural.
“After learning more, Bill did some research, confirmed the artwork was still intact, and invited the family to visit once the mural was uncovered,” Assistant Director of Marketing, Training and Hospitality Erin Watts said.
The mural, which the Steinburg family referred to as the “union mural,” was one of the largest pieces Steinburg had painted at the time. Steinburg’s son Rick Steinburg said that the piece was based on a painting they had in their house. Then-director of the Student Union Bruce Kaiser and then-Art Department Chair F. Louis Hoover visited their home and asked C. Louis if he could “do something like one of the paintings in the house,” Rick said.
C. Louis taught art at Illinois State for 34 years before retiring in 1993. His work often explored the relationship between positive and negative space created by oceans, sky, land and other elements, his son said.
“Much of his work was based on nature and landscapes,” Rick said.
The union mural stretches from the floor to the ceiling, with three white rectangles at the top. Blue hues move around the rectangles, flowing down and overlapping with other colors before dripping back down into the remaining white expanse. Rick said that much of his father’s work was based on improvisation.
“He started by laying out the basic composition of the whole piece, then underpainted the large areas, probably working pretty quickly through that,” Rick said.
“Then I think he probably slowed down and added the more complex elements; improvising, evaluating and revising these elements until he reached a balance of composition and a color harmony that he was happy with,“ he continued.
The revealing of the mural was a special moment for the Steinburg family, as C. Louis passed away in 2014. The day they saw the mural would have been the artist’s 89th birthday.
“It was purely coincidental that we got to see the mural on my dad's birthday,” Peterson said. “That just made it more special, kind of a celebration for him. “
The mural could not be saved, but pieces of it will be given to Steinburg’s family as a memento of the work.
“It was wonderful to get to see the mural uncovered after all these years,” Peterson said. “It brought my mom to tears.”