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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:

 

Location
 
Artist
 
Title
 
Description
 
Cost
 
Elgin State Hospital
 
Fritzi Brod
 
Decorative Screen
 
3 celetex (oil) panels – each panel 4-1/2′ x 10′
 
$10
 
Elgin Public Schools
 
Anne Michalov
 
Flowers
 
watercolor
 
$1
 
Elgin Public Schools
 
Ethel Spears
 
In the Park
 
watercolor
 
$1
 
Elgin Public Schools
 
Edgar Cameron
 
Arroya Secco
 
oil painting
 
$6
 
Grant School
 
Carl Gasslander
 
#662 – Native Girl
 
watercolor
 
?
 
George F. Lord School, 7th Grade Room
 
Sigfus Sigfussen
 
Wash Day in Camp
 
Easel oil painting
 
$12
 
Columbia School, 720 Hill St.
 
Jacob Richard
 
#76 – Landscape
 
Easel oil painting
 
$8.50
 
Sears Academy of Fine Arts
 
M. Kahn
 
Street at Naperville
 
15″ x 22″ picture
 
$7.50
 
Sears Academy of Fine Arts
 
F. Brod
 
Road to Lake
 
23″ x 29″ picture
 
$12
 
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.