Ben Shahn's WPA mural planned for the Rikers Island Penitentiary mess hall was rejected in 1935, the year the prison opened.
Harold Lehman's WPA mural "Man's Daily Bread" was mounted there instead circa 1936 but was removed decades later.
Thus in a sense, both the planned Shahn mural and the actual Lehman mural could be counted as two murals "missing" in Rikers Island Penitentiary WPA art history.
Considerably worse for wear but not missing is a third Rikers Island Penitentiary WPA mural: Anton Refregier's "Home and the Family."
In 1937 when Refregier painted his oil-on-canvas mural for the Rikers Island Penitentiary visitors room wall, the larger-than-life scene looked out on a big room whose occupants could view it full spectrum.
The Moscow-born artist painted it under the Federal Art Projects (FAP), part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
During the Depression, the WPA was an agency that initiated and oversaw various emergency employment programs.
Subsidizing artists to paint scenes on governmental building walls was one of WPA's more high profile activities.
The Rikers mural reflects a frequent WPA art theme: By working together -- whether on a farm, in a forest, or in industry -- people can build a better life for themselves, their family, their country.
When the Rikers Island Penitentiary visitors area decades later was relocated elsewhere, the big room with the mural was partitioned into offices accessed via a narrow corridor.
Since then the mural has looked down on a passageway not wide enough for photographing the entire painted scene in a single camera shot.
The canvas shows some graffiti markings as well as stray streaks and splatter from past paintings of overhanging pipes, adjacent doorframes, walls and ceiling.
Kelly Choi is host of the "Jails of New York: Secrets Unlocked" show in the NYCTV Original Productions Secrets of New York series. It premiered May 23rd, Tuesday, but was scheduled to air again Oct. 17th at 8PM, Oct. 18th at 10:30PM and Oct. 21st at 9PM on WNYE.
With Time Warner Cable, that's Ch. 25.
With Cablevision, that's Ch. 22.
With Direct TV, that's Ch. 25 in NY or Ch. 888 in NJ.
The show's photo logo (right) -- Kelly Choi in a JATC cell block -- appears here courtesy of NYCTV Original Productions that retains and reserves all rights. Click it to access the web page of NYCTV Original Productions Secrets of New York.
Separately NYCHS also took a series of digital photos of the mural close up, section by section.
You can access 30 of the NYCHS close-up views by clicking any section of the top-of-the-page composite. The NYCHS close-ups are grouped in distinct sections:
Farm Field (4 views); Mother & Children (6 views); House Builders (5 views); Family Meal (6 views);
To NYCTV photographer Peter Bossio's photos of Refregier's Rikers WPA mural
--- To Rikers Pen/HDM/JATC inmate murals --
--- Rikers Penitentiary mess hall movie mural --
--- To Harold Lehman's Rikers Penitentiary mess hall WPA mural --
-- To Ben Shahn's NY -- Rikers Mural: NYCHS Excerpts --
-- To NYCHS home page --