It was a monumental undertaking one that had never been attempted at another American hospital. Murals in public buildings were a new concept in 1914. Only the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library had successfully completed similar projects. The idea of bringing art to Wishard, then known as City Hospital, started on a very small scale with the idea of commissioning a local artist to create an oil painting for the new Burdsal units which had just opened in 1914. A committee of local artists was asked to select the artist, but the committee came back with a better suggestion. Why not enlist several Indiana artists to paint murals on the hospital walls? William Forsyth, a prominent member of Indiana’s famous Hoosier Group, agreed to oversee the project. At the conclusion of many months of work, sixteen Indiana painters had created thirty-three different murals that covered a quarter mile of the hospital’s wall space.
This included well-established artists such as, T. C. Steele, Otto Stark, Clifton Wheeler, Wayman Adams, J. Ottis Adams, and Forsyth himself, and younger painters and local art students such as Simon Baus, Walter Hixon Isnogle, Carl Graf, Jay Connaway, Emma B. King, Dorothy Morlan, Martinus Anderson, Francis E. Brown, Helene Hibben and an African American artist, William Edouard Scott, who would make a name for himself as a mural painter along with his other successful artistic endeavors. Most of this group received housepainter’s wages, slept in empty wards and ate in the hospital kitchens, while the established artists painted in their studios and received no more than $150 a month for their work.
Despite the success of this mural project and the national accolades it received, only a fraction of these murals survive, many having been badly damaged, lost, destroyed or given away over the years. It is the goal of the IMA conservation department and Wishard Hospital to conserve those murals that can be salvaged. Since 2003 the IMA has been working on the conservation of the Wishard murals. To date 13 of these murals have either been conserved, are in the process of being conserved or will be conserved in the near future. The IMA will host an exhibition of these murals opening January 17, 2009 that will run through March 31, 2009. The purpose of this exhibition is to recognize the importance and quality of these murals and to show the various stages of conservation required to preserve them. The original mural project was monumental, the results spectacular, the legacy stunning. It is with great pride and pleasure that the IMA presents the exhibition Preserving a Legacy: The Wishard Hospital Murals in honor of those artists who gave of their time to bring a measure of joy to the lives of the hospital’s patients.