WEST LOOP — Nearly a decade after Oprah Winfrey’s television production company left Chicago, the queen of daytime talk is poised for a symbolic return to the city’s West Loop neighborhood.
Winfrey’s likeness features prominently in a new mural taking shape outside the recently completed Porte apartment development, previously known as The Venn. Spanning the west side of Green Street between Madison and Monroe streets, the block-long work will be one of the largest standalone murals in the city, according to its creators.
“Before Google and Fulton Market’s restaurants, Oprah was instrumental in attracting interest in the West Loop,” said Linda Kozloski, creative design director at Lendlease, a company co-developing Porte with the John Buck Company and Intercontinental Real Estate Corporation.
The 586-unit apartment complex, which replaced the H2O Plus factory at 845 W. Madison St., is a short walk from the former Harpo Studios television campus that served as home base for the “Oprah Winfrey Show” from 1990 until 2011.
Despite Winfrey’s immense influence on the West Loop’s renaissance, the upcoming Green Street mural is the first public installation of its kind to recognize her lasting impact.
“It’s kind of crazy that we would be the first one after all this time,” Kozloski said.
In 2016, Sterling Bay Principal Andy Gloor said the developer planned to honor Oprah Winfrey’s legacy as it moved to demolish the Harpo Studios facility at 110 N. Carpenter St. to make way for McDonald’s corporate headquarters.
“We are definitely going to do something to remember who was there,” Gloor said at the time.
Sterling Bay’s promised tribute seemingly never materialized, and a spokesperson for the company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
For the upcoming Green Street installation, Porte’s developers received proposals from several Chicago-based art collaborators before ultimately selecting B_Line Projects. The group, which is based in the West Loop and curated a mile-long collection of murals along Hubbard Street, came up with the idea to honor Winfrey’s legacy.
“We looked at this as an opportunity to show what the neighborhood was all about,” explained B_Line’s Levar Hoard. “What are the most genuine things about the West Loop? There’s the Haymarket riot, the meatpacking industry, house music, and Oprah Winfrey. She put the West Loop on the map.”
B_Line selected four Chicago-based artists — Shawn Michael Warren, Jane Barthes, Anna Murphy, and Kalan Strauss — to create the one-of-kind design which features several overlapping styles. Oprah’s portrait is joined by geometric and natural elements, including floral patterns, clouds, and a bird. Hoard said he’s given the project a working title of “Oprah and the Magpie in Wonderland.”
The team had to contact Winfrey for permission to use her image.
“We happily took on the challenge of getting a hold of Oprah in the middle of COVID,” Hoard said.
Winfrey’s face also appears as a small insert in Kerry James Marshall’s mural behind downtown’s Chicago Cultural Center, but Hoard said the West Loop creation is the only example to feature Winfrey in such a prominent way. “We wanted a very clear nod to the queen.”
Members of the public can watch the whimsical installation take shape over the coming days. If the weather cooperates, the work is expected to wrap-up around mid-September, according to the team.
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