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The Murals

The Artists

Introduction

Charles Alston

Alfred Crimi

Vertis Hayes

Georgette Seabrooke

The Controversy

The WPA in Harlem

The Artists | Introduction

The artists of the 306 W. 141st Street WPA Art Center. Back row, left to right: Add Bates; unidentified; James Yeargans; Vertis Hayes; Charles Alston; Sollace Glenn; unidentified; Elba Lightfoot; Selma Day; Ronald Joseph; Georgette Seabrooke; ——— Reid. Front row, left to right: Gwendolyn Knight; unidentified; Francisco Lord; unidentified; unidentified.

© Morgan and Marvin Smith. Reproduction from the Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundation

Charles Alston shared the fate of other well-qualified African American artists when the WPA denied him a supervisory position. He went on to form the Harlem Artists Guild with artist Augusta Savage and bibliophile Arthur Schomburg. The guild was successful in lobbying the WPA on behalf of many African American artists. As a result, an unprecedented number of African American artists had the opportunity to work on the Harlem Hospital Center murals project.

In addition to the master artists who designed and supervised each mural, a number of assistant artists went on to illustrious art careers. Beauford Delaney (1901–79) was one such individual. Although a part of the Harlem art scene, Delaney was also entrenched in the Greenwich Village artistic community, and embraced poetry and jazz as well as the visual arts. He became known for his abstract expressions of light. Morgan Smith (1910–93) who assisted Vertis Hayes on his Harlem Hospital mural became famous, along with his twin brother Marvin, for photographs of the Harlem community. Tragedy also marked the workers at the hospital. After being laid off in 1937, assistant artist Louis Vaughn committed suicide, underscoring the vital importance of the jobs the WPA provided.

Morgan Smith, Vertis Hayes, and Elton Serrant working on Pursuit of Happiness, c. 1938.

Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations

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