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The Murals


Magic in Medicine

Modern Medicine

Modern Surgery and Anesthesia

Pursuit of Happiness

Recreation in Harlem

Conserving the Murals

The Artists

The Controversy

The WPA in Harlem

The Murals | Introduction

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.

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.


Harlem Hospital opened in 1887, in a Victorian mansion at East 120th Street and the East River.


The hospital occupied part of its present site on the east side of Lenox Avenue between 136th and 137th streets in 1907, where it opened as a 150-bed facility. The hospital has a long and respected reputation as an educator of African American health professionals. Although African American physicians were not appointed to the medical staff in any significant number until 1927, minority physicians have since come to dominate the medical facility and residency programs. The hospital, which currently has 286 beds, is a member of the New York City Health and Hospitals, and a teaching hospital for Columbia University.


Harlem Hospital Center's Modernization Project will include the renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Pavilion and construction of a new pavilion on Lenox Avenue between 136th and 137th Streets. The design for the new pavilion has already received the 2005 Design Award of Honor from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.


The modernization project will also include the preservation of the WPA murals that are located in two of the buildings to be demolished: the Women's Pavilion and the New Nurses Residence. The murals will be reinstalled in the lobby of the New Patient Pavilion.


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