ELGIN — A controversial mural that officials didn't initially know depicted a lynching won't immediately be returned to the artist who created it for a northeastern Illinois city.
The Elgin Cultural Arts Commission rejected artist David Powers' request Monday for the return of his piece, "American Nocturne," which was commissioned and put on display in 2007. The mural was put into storage in 2016, after city officials learned it was based on a photograph of a crowd that gathered during a 1930 lynching in Marion, Indiana, The (Elgin) Courier-News reported .
Powers said his work depicts "monsters" and is an example of what people should strive not to be. But many people found the work offensive and pressured the city to take it down.
The commission wants to create guidelines about how a returned piece of art can be used in the future before giving the mural back to Powers. Elgin officials fear the mural could be displayed elsewhere without an explanation about what it depicts, said Amanda Harris, the city staff liaison to the commission.
The mural doesn't illustrate the bodies of two black men hanging from trees, as shown in the original photo, but instead focuses on the crowd.
"Once we have returned the mural, he can do with it whatever he wants. At that point it is his property," Harris said.
A community art plan was approved last year that allows retired or loaned artwork to be returned to an artist. But the commission didn't create a protocol or rules for how that would be done, Harris said.
The commission may create an art return request form with rules for what artists can do with returned pieces, Harris said. The commission has asked Powers to resubmit his application at a later date.
The city commissioned three murals from Powers and placed them on display in 2007. One mural remains on display downtown, while another is also in storage. Powers hasn't submitted return requests for those pieces.