Michelle Melin-Rogovin honors her late husband, Mark Rogovin, at the Uri-Eichen Gallery, 2101 S. Halsted, Chicago.

Many Forest Parkers miss artist/activist Mark Rogovin, who died on Sept. 30, 2019. Mark accomplished so much during his 73 years. He went to Mexico to work with muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros on “March of Humanity,” the world’s largest mural. He came to Chicago in 1968 and founded the Public Art Workshop in a storefront at 5623 W. Madison Street. He was also a tireless champion of the Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Forest Home Cemetery.

On May Day, there was a large rally at the monument, which included a fiery pro-labor speech by Forest Park’s Rich Lieb, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The Historical Society of Forest Park had a booth and distributed literature. Executive Director Alexis Ellis told the crowd about Mark’s dedication to preserving the monument and telling its story. 

Mark was instrumental in having stolen elements of the monument replaced and raising funds for the monument’s restoration. Whenever he spotted visitors at the monument, he would give them an impromptu tour. I often had lunch with him and Alexis and we never got through it without Mark mentioning the monument.

At the May Day celebration, the Mark Rogovin Award was presented to Carol Gulyas, for her successful efforts to have the Illinois Department of Transportation install signs on I-290 directing travelers to the monument. The historical society created the award in 2020 to honor volunteers. Mark was a very dedicated volunteer.

His legacy is currently being celebrated in an exhibit at the Uri-Eichen Gallery, 2101 S. Halsted Street, Chicago. The exhibit opened on May 13 with a program led by Rebecca Zorach, a professor at Northwestern University. Mark’s spouse, Michelle Melin-Rogovin, introduced Zorach, who spoke of Mark’s involvement with the Public Art Workshop in the Austin neighborhood.

At the workshop, Mark created murals and sculptures honoring Civil Rights heroes like Fred Hampton, Paul Robeson and Angela Davis. He also recruited kids from the neighborhood for artistic projects. From 1972 to 1981, the workshop was alive with artistic activity. Zorach also screened a brief video of Mark painting one of his murals.  

The show was curated by Alexis from Michelle’s collection, which cover the walls of the gallery. She had worked with him for 12 years, curating the photo collection of his renowned father, Milton Rogovin. Now she is curating Mark’s work. She will be at the gallery for their next program. 

On May 22 from 2 to 5 p.m., there will be a reception with the Illinois Labor History Society and our historical society titled, “The Statue behind the Man,” chronicling his dedication to the Haymarket monument. It will celebrate Mark’s roles as an artist, activist and historian of the people. Those who can’t attend can call the gallery at 312-852-7717, to schedule an appointment to view his work. Or they can visit www.markrogovin.com for a retrospective on his career.

Mark’s presence can still be felt at the monument, as his grave marker is only a few yards away.  I felt his spirit on May Day. I miss Mark in many ways — as a friend, collaborator and correspondent. He loved Forest Park and its people and was constantly uncovering stories for me. 

He also enjoyed mentoring young people. Two young women at the opening of the exhibit, dementia researchers from the Feinberg School of Medicine, where Mark had been evaluated for frontotemporal dementia, wanted to know more about the man whose photo hangs in their lab. Before he died from the disease, he had declared, “I have memory loss but I’m a person who accomplished things.” 

You sure did, buddy. 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.