Abstract Murals of the WPA

Hospital for Chronic Diseases, Welfare Island

(later Goldwater Memorial Hospital, Roosevelt Island)

In 1937, the City broke ground on a new hospital campus on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) devoted solely to the care of chronic diseases. Designed by Isadore Rosenfield, Butler & Kohn, and York & Sawyer, the campus included chevron-shaped buildings designed to provide an optimum amount of natural light as well as views to the East River. The WPA commissioned abstract murals by Ilya Bolotowsky, Dane Chanase, Joseph Rugolo, and Albert Swinden for the circular day rooms found throughout the buildings. The artists were inspired by the river views seen from the rooms and intended their artworks to enliven these spaces, bringing joy to the patients.

In 2001, Bolotowsky's abstract mural was conserved as part of the Municipal Art Society's Adopt-A-Mural program, a project conceived in partnership with the Art Commission and directed by Phyllis Cohen. In 2013, in preparation for the demolition of the hospital to make way for Cornell University's tech campus, the University hired conservators to do an extensive search within the building. In addition to the Bolotowsky mural, the conservators were able to confirm the location of the Rugolo and Swinden murals. All three murals were removed from the building prior to its demolition, conserved by Fine Art Conservation and EverGreene Architectural Arts, and will be given new homes by Cornell in the future. They are currently exhibited in Revealed: WPA Murals from Roosevelt Island at the Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, NY, which runs through May 29, 2016.

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