Harlem Hospital: Alston Murals – New York NY


Harlem Hospital murals include two 1940 pieces by Charles Alston, “Magic in Medicine” and “Modern Medicine”, painted under the auspices of the Federal Arts Project of the WPA in 1936.  As the New York Times notes, “Harlem Hospital’s were perhaps the first major federal government commissions awarded to African-Americans.”

“Charles Alston’s Magic in Medicine is situated opposite his Modern Medicine, offering contrast and dialogue between traditional and modern healing practices. The diptych imagines the history of healing and medicine in Africa and the United States. The sepia-toned Magic in Medicine incorporates a Fang reliquary sculpture, a type of ritual art piece from Gabon that was widely collected by Alston’s contemporaries. The Fang sculpture, perhaps representing Africa, is juxtaposed in Modern Medicine to symbols of the West, such as the microscope, fathers of ancient Western medicine, and modern medical practitioners, nurses, and doctors…” (https://iraas.columbia.edu)

This and the other murals, originally in the old hospital and visible only to staff, have been restored for over $4 million and hung in the lobby of the new Mural Pavillon, opened in 2012.  In a lovely gesture of respect, the hospital now projects African-American artist Vertis Hayes’ “Pursuit of Happiness” onto the enormous glass facade of the pavillon, where it is visible to all.


Source notes

National Archives and Records Administration, Negative 12710-C

"At Harlem Hospitals, Murals Get a New Life", New York Times, Sept. 16, 2012



Project originally submitted by Evan Kalish on November 10, 2015.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

506 Malcolm X Blvd
New York, NY 10037

Coordinates: 40.8141, -73.940

One comment on “Harlem Hospital: Alston Murals – New York NY

  1. First paragraph on Alston murals has minor typo — should be painted not pained.

Leave a Reply

Before leaving a comment, please note:

  • Comments allow viewers to share information with others or alert us to errors or changes in a New Deal site.
  • We are not involved in the management of New Deal sites and have no information about visits, hours or rentals.
  • This page shows all the information we have for this site; if you have new information or photos to share, click below.


We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.