The Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) was created in 1935 for the support and employment of artists. In its eight years of operation, the WPA commissioned over five hundred murals solely for New York City's public hospitals. The Harlem Hospital Center murals, initially commissioned in 1936, were the first major U.S.-government commissions awarded to African American artists. While the WPA offered suggestions to artists, it also gave them the opportunity to express their creative ideas.
Most artists who won WPA commissions were recommended by better-known artists. Before the hospital mural project, Vertis Hayes was working with a muralist named Jean Charlot in Chicago, and Georgette Seabrooke was a leading student at Cooper Union's art school, where she studied with John Steuart Curry, a famous Midwestern muralist of the 1930s.
The Harlem Hospital Center murals were described in histories of African American art by notable writers, such as philosopher Alain Locke and artist and art historian James Porter. Yet, like so many WPA projects created by black and white artists alike, the murals fell into obscurity and eventually deteriorated from their exposure to environmental adversities. It wasn't until the 1990s that serious efforts began to restore them to their original state.
For more information on the plans for the murals, please contact Deborah Thornhill, Associate Executive Director, Strategic Planning at (212) 939-3548. For additional information about Harlem Hospital Center, you may also visit the hospital's website.
About Harlem Hospital
The lobby of Harlem Hospital's New Patient Pavilion will commemorate the hospital's long history in the neighborhood and will feature five of the WPA murals.