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WPA Art in Elgin, Illinois

Northern Illinois Hospital for the Insane

The following is an excerpt from the book, The History of Elgin Mental Health Center – Evolution of a State Hospital (1997) by William Briska, MSW:

“In 1935, one New Deal program, the Work Progress Administration (WPA), brought in a crew of 15 artists and six assistants to paint large murals on the walls of twenty-one buildings. The murals portrayed a variety of themes, such as, African landscapes, the inside of a steel mill, and the history of transportation. A few pieces of sculpture were also created” Edward Reid was one of the artists who worked on the project. According to Mr. Briska, by the 1970s, the murals had been painted over and were no longer visible. According to contemporary newspaper articles, there were seven WPA murals planned for the Elgin State Hospital for the Insane. The first mural was installed in Pershing Cottage, a ward building housing 300 war veterans in February 1936. The mural cost $2000. “Cloth weaving” was the subject. The mural measured 44′ long x 6′ wide. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, “Soft shades of primary colors were employed to avoid exciting combinations.” David Martin, project supervisor for the WPA, supervised the 18 artists who worked on this mural.


WPA Records from the Archives of American Art, Elgin, IL:


Elgin State Hospital
Fritzi Brod
Decorative Screen
3 celetex (oil) panels – each panel 4-1/2′ x 10′
Elgin Public Schools
Anne Michalov
Elgin Public Schools
Ethel Spears
In the Park
Elgin Public Schools
Edgar Cameron
Arroya Secco
oil painting
Grant School
Carl Gasslander
#662 – Native Girl
George F. Lord School, 7th Grade Room
Sigfus Sigfussen
Wash Day in Camp
Easel oil painting
Columbia School, 720 Hill St.
Jacob Richard
#76 – Landscape
Easel oil painting
Sears Academy of Fine Arts
M. Kahn
Street at Naperville
15″ x 22″ picture
Sears Academy of Fine Arts
F. Brod
Road to Lake
23″ x 29″ picture
The Elgin Academy
Wm. Schwartz
Cash Corning
oil painting #2950 – 30″ x 36″
The Elgin Academy
G. Segedy
West of the River
oil painting #4556 – 24″ x 30″
The Elgin Academy
K. Himmel
Street Fair
oil painting #6632 – 30″ x 36″
The Elgin Academy
N. Marous
Camping Group
Drawing #4414 -
15″ x 20″




According to a Chicago Tribune article, July 16, 1935, the WPA murals completed for Elgin Hospital included a jungle scene which occupied an entire wall ofEverett Cottage, an open ward building. The other, in Pinel Cottage, was a painting of domestic animals. David Martin was the art supervisor of the Elgin Hospital WPA art project.