At Jefferson Avenue and Webster Street is a brick wall mural called “Man’s Search for Knowledge Through the Ages.” Since the wall spans a corner of the Nichols Library parking lot, the title is absolutely appropriate.
The mural is a bas-relief sculpture, a dimensional mural carved directly into the brick face. The images “symbolize the human quest for learning through the ages” from the biblical Tree of Knowledge through explorers in outer space.
“Man’s Search for Knowledge” is the work of Mara Smith, a nationally-known artist who works out of Seattle, Washington. Smith intended to teach jewelry-making and metal-working, but was given the opportunity to create brick murals for a hotel in Dallas which jump-started a new career. Her work is displayed internationally and she has been called “the pioneer of modern brick sculpture" by the Brick Institute of America.
Smith originally created the wall in 1987, years before the 1996 incarnation of the Century Walk Foundation, but the mural was adopted by Century Walk in 1998.
More recently, Smith’s work suffered serious damage when in July of 2016, a driver in the library parking lot accidentally accelerated into the wall, knocking out a four foot by five foot section and shoving a large portion of the rest of it off its foundation.
A Naperville resident who worked for a Broadview masonry company contacted Century Walk and offered their services. They disassembled the wall, numbering each brick as they went, and rebuilt it to stabilize the basic structure.
Century Walk then contacted Diosdado “Dodie” Mondero, the artist responsible for other pieces downtown such as “Naperville Loves a Parade” and “Pillars of the Community,” to fit the brick pieces back together and re-create the pieces that were not salvageable. Mondero worked with a special effects company to match the color and texture of the replacements to that of the original brick and mortar.
The first installation cost about $42,000 back in 1987. The 2016 bill was closer to $50,000 for restoring the mural