"The Art Contribution to Civilization of All Nations and Countries"
This building was originally the Textile High School, then the Straubenmuller Textile High School, then the Charles Evans Hughes High School, before eventually assuming its current title as the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex. It is now an NYC “vertical campus” housing several smaller schools.
In addition to a pair of stained glass windows by Gerard Recke, the building contains several large WPA Federal Arts Project murals created by various New Deal artists in 1934-36. In a 1965 oral history, New Deal artist Irving Block said of the high school that “there were many rooms available to us for decoration.”
In the same lobby in which Recke’s windows are located, renowned muralist Jean Charlot, a friend of Diego Rivera’s, “was also called in to oversee the work already in progress of art students – including Abraham Lishinsky – titled The Art Contribution to Civilization of All Nations and Countries” (wikipedia). Irving Block also assisted Charlot on these lobby murals. These murals, depicting scenes from civilizations ranging from Ancient Egypt to 20th century America, still decorate all four walls of the lobby today, covering 500 square feet. Pictures of several panels of this mural are shown here. We do not know which artists painted which sections.
Charlot himself “painted a central niche, which he named Head, Crowned with Laurels.” This mural was soon painted over, and the artist later listed it as “destroyed.” Fortunately, however, the Adopt-A-Mural Program restored the painting in 1995. (wikipedia)
The school’s auditorium contains another set of murals by artist Geoffrey Norman. A 1979 article by Marlene Park describes the murals in detail: “The eight side panels were ‘devoted to a marked period in history. Thus we have: …Egypt, Assyria, Asia, Greece…Rome, Byzantium, Middle Ages, 20th Century.” The end panels ‘unfold a panorama of the world’s truly great leaders in the arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and literature.’ One of the inscriptions reads: ‘Man has left his record down the ages and posterity finds in it, rich inspiration and incentive to contribute worthily its own chapter in the vast epic of civilization.'” The end panels and four of the eight side panels are pictured here.
Finally, the National Archives and Records Administration contains several archival images of artist Jaques Van Aalten’s sketches and finished murals for the Straubenmuller Textile High School. None of the recent photos the Living New Deal has been able to locate match those in these images. Further information on the status and exact location within the school of these murals is needed.
Park, M. (1979). City and Country in the 1930s: A Study of New Deal Murals in New York. Art Journal, 39(1), 37–47.
Oral history interview with Irving Block, 1965 April 16
Ephemeral New York - Stained glass beauty inside an 18th Street school
The Jean Charlot Collection
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These murals still exist. They are fading and in need of of restoration before they are permanently damaged.