I’m happy to see some long-neglected murals being restored in Harlem. Robin Pogrebin has the story in the NY Times:
“When the Works Progress Administration [WPA] commissioned murals for Harlem Hospital Center in 1936, it easily approved the sketches submitted by seven artists, which depicted black people at work and at play throughout history. The hospital, however, objected, saying four of the sketches focused too much on ‘Negro’ subject matter … .
“Protesters rallied around the art, though, lodging complaints as high as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the murals ultimately prevailed.
“Over the years, those wall paintings deteriorated or were obscured by plaster. Now they have been restored and brought front and center as part of a new, $325 million patient pavilion for the hospital, on Lenox Avenue at 135th Street that will be unveiled on Sept. 27. …
“The artists — the last of whom, Georgette Seabrooke, died last year — were not well known and their murals portrayed ordinary people going about their daily lives. Vertis Hayes’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ panel traces the African diaspora from 18th-century African village life to slavery in America to 20th-century freedom; from agrarian struggles in the South to professional success in the industrialized North.” More.
The WPA cost money, but it put a lot of people to work. And look at all the great things that were created! I especially love the idea that unemployed people were paid to paint murals, write and produce plays, interview ordinary Americans for the National Archives, and record folk music. I know it was a stressful time, but thinking about the art makes me almost nostalgic.
Elizabeth Kolligs works on restoring Vertis Hayes’s “Pursuit of Happiness” at Harlem Hospital.