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 1930s Watkins hospital murals recovering at student health center

A 70-year-old mural that first graced the walls of what is now Twente Hall has found a new home on the second floor of Watkins Memorial Health Center.

The colorful mural features vintage Jayhawks in varying degrees of health cavorting in a field of Kansas Sunflowers. It was painted in the early 1930s in the third-floor sunroom of Watkins Memorial Hospital, now called Twente Hall.

Carol Seager, director of student health service's at Watkins Memorial Health Center, said the murals were removed from their original location in 1974 when the new health center opened on the south end of main campus.

The murals were displayed in several locations within Watkins for the next 20 years, but were taken down during remodeling that took place in the late 1990s.

Recently, the mural was refurbished and now is on display along with an original Watkins Hospital bed, patient privacy screen, several exam chairs, and two wheel chairs on the second floor of the health center.

The display is available to the public during normal hours of operation.

"This is an investment in our history," Seager said. "We are proud to preserve and display relics of our very unique heritage."
Not all of the mural's scenes could be salvaged from the former site, however. Old photographs of the mural as it appeared in Twente Hall show additional scenes including Jayhawks representing a football-player, a singer, a painter and soldiers performing drills.

Seager said what remained was representative of the original story told by the mural, which begins with a healthy Jayhawk napping on a sunflower branch. Along the 15-foot-long painting, the 6-inch birds can be seen with various injuries, then in stages of recovery, and finally flying free. "There's a story to be told, though clearly there are portions that weren't saved," Seager said.

Marjorie Whitney, f'27, created the painting on canvas-covered walls in 1931. Alumni Association records show that Whitney passed away in 1998, but Watkins administrators said they would like to find her family members to share the display with them.

The mural, furniture and other displays at Watkins are a tiny portion of the legacy left to KU by Elizabeth Miller Watkins, Seager said. In addition to the health center that bears her name, Watkins also was the benefactor behind Watkins and Miller scholarship halls, the chancellor's residence and thousands of acres of land.

"She was a very generous benefactor," Seager said. "We are fortunate that she had the foresight to establish a trust that continues to serve the medical needs of the university community."


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