New York City: no publisher, [circa 1940]. Sixteen original mural designs, executed in pencil and paint on cardboard, ranging in size from 6 x 3 inches (smallest) to 8 x 15 inches (largest), some with pencil notes to versos. Twelve designs accompanied by black-and-white photographs of the completed murals in the hospital, each photograph measuring 8 x 10 inches, many stamped “Colten Photos New York PLaza 9-7200” on versos.
Original mural designs for the walls of Bellevue Hospital Unit PQ6, the children’s psychiatric ward, depicting happy mixed-race groups of children at work and play: pinning laundry on a clothesline, washing up, playing music, ice skating, skiing, jumping rope, fishing, pitching a baseball. There are also a few images of boys in cowboy costume, with guitar and lasso, and a circus parade, with “PQ6 BAND” added to a clown’s drum in the completed mural. The scenes are aspirational glimpses of a world outside the hospital, where children have pets, visit the beach, and meet up at the playground. With the exception of the circus clowns, there are no adults in any of the murals. The children are free. Artist Ruth Van Cleve studied painting at the Art Students League of New York, producing mostly smaller-scale oils and watercolors throughout her career. These Bellevue designs are her only recorded venture into public art. Between 1935 and 1942, the hospital commissioned over a dozen murals through the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, but Van Cleve’s murals do not appear to be part of that initiative, designed as they were not for monumental impact, but to comfort young psychiatric patients living inside the hospital. An acknowledged pioneer in pediatric medicine, Bellevue would come under fire in later decades for the experimental therapies tested on the children in Unit PQ6, notably the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to treat signs of autism and schizophrenia. A moving archive.