"Modern Surgery and Anesthesia", Alfred Crimi, 1940
Alfred D. Crimi painted this 250-square-foot fresco, entitled Modern Surgery and Anesthesia, in 1940 for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
According to the webpage entry “Harlem Hospital WPA Murals” from Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies, “Alfred D. Crimi, the only white person employed as a master artist for the Harlem Hospital murals project, was originally commissioned to paint a series of five fresco panels for the Medical Board Room, but he only completed one before leaving to work on another federally sponsored art project in Washington, D.C. He based the subjects for his series on the history of medicine, and conducted rigorous historical research for the five murals, which were to be titled: Primitive Cure, Egyptian Embalming, The Resurrectionists, Quack Doctors, and Modern Surgery and Anesthesia.
“In his research for the only completed mural, Modern Surgery and Anesthesia, Crimi spent two weeks at the newly built Kings County Hospital, which was installed with modern equipment. There, the hospital supervisor’s personal secretary gave Crimi tours of all of the hospital’s departments, and he was allowed to watch a brain surgery. He based his mural on his observation of the precise coordination and intense concentration of the surgical team. Modern Surgery and Anesthesia stands out from the other murals at Harlem Hospital because it depicts only white subjects. Despite this fact, the artist writes in his autobiography that he still encountered opposition from the hospital’s supervisor and staff, who, according to Crimi, called the WPA artists ‘dole collectors and free loaders.'”
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.
Project originally submitted by Charles Swaney on April 19, 2016.
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