Provided by Mexic-Arte Museum
The cover art titled “The Origins of Medicine,” is composed of two 9’x 29’ oil on canvas murals by Mexican artist, Rafael Navarro Barajas. These murals combine Greek mythology, symbolism of medicine and healthcare, and Mexican figurative and portrait painting.
Mural 1 depicts the Greek myth of Menelaus putting battle aside to tend to a wounded Patroclaus. The motivation shown by Menelaus to care for Patroclaus symbolizes the vocation of doctors choosing to heal others.
Mural 2 symbolizes the balance of the universe. In it four titans; the four original elements fire, earth, air, and water are locked in a creative and endless struggle. In the center of the mural an image of two men is presented. An image of a young man shows the restlessness and illusions about the future that young people carry. The old man with more distinguished and weary features symbolizes calmness, composition, and serenity that comes with maturity, wisdom, and experience.
M.K. Hage, an Austin community leader, and philanthropist commissioned the murals for the Medical Park Tower on W. 38th street in 1967 where they remained until 2021. The Nettie and M.K. Hage Family generously donated the murals to Mexic-Arte Museum this summer.
Rafael Navarro Barajas was born in Tonala, Jalisco in 1921. He began his art studies at the Academy of San Carlos and later at La Esmeralda 1944 – 1949. In addition to art, Navarro studied philosophy and religion in Mexico and at the Mexican National Seminary in Montezuma, New Mexico. This education guided him, both as a scholar and an artist. In 1950, he received a scholarship awarded by the French Institute. Navarro Barajas exhibited in Mexico, the United States, and Europe.
Rafael Navarro was introduced to M.K. Hage by Thomas Mabry Cranfill (1913–1995), Professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin. Cranfill was the editor of the Texas Quarterly and an avid collector of art. He also organized the Mexican modern graphics collection for General Motors of Mexico and a Latin American art collection for Braniff Airlines. Cranfill had a home in Mexico City at 303 Puebla, Colonia Roma were friends, artists and patrons gathered.
M.K. Hage was a graduate of The University of Texas with graduate degrees in education and business administration. As a real estate investor, Hage became a pioneer in the field of medical property development. The friendship between these individuals led to M.K. Hage commissioning Rafael Navarro to paint the two murals for the new Medical Park Tower.
In an explanatory document, “Rafael Navarro: Murals for Medical Park Tower,” written in 1967 by Thomas M. Cranfill, states, “On the afternoon and evening of Aug. 25, 1967, a brilliant company gathered in the ancient Teatro Arbeu in Mexico City to see for the first and last time in Mexico the two murals Rafael Navarro has executed for Medical Park Tower in Austin,” Cranfill writes. “The murals, oil on canvas, each 9 feet tall and 29 feet long, are soon to be divested of their stretcher sticks, rolled up, and sent to Austin.”
The murals remained at the Medical Park Tower from 1967 to 2021 greeting visitors that entered the building. In the fall of 2000, Mexic-Arte Museum presented the exhibition, Mexico in Austin Collections. In organizing the exhibition, Mexic-Arte Museum worked with M.K. Hage who generously lent the original sketches for the mural for the exhibit.
The building was later sold and in 2020, there were new plans for the building and the murals. Originally, the building’s renovation plan had called for the murals to be forever hidden behind the new walls in the new design of the lobby. In August 2020, Sara Hickman, Austin’s well-known musician visiting the building, noticed in the plans posted that the murals were not included in the new design. She alerted the community that the murals were in danger. Hickman led an effort to save them by contacting community members and creating “Save the Rafael Navarro B Murals!” More than 2375 people signed the petition on social media led by Ms. Hickman. Mexic-Arte Museum was also contacted and joined the effort to save the mural.
The social-media movement caught the attention of city officials, art and community members, the media, and M.K. and Nettie Hage’s daughters. Through the insistence and perseverance of the Hage daughters, Lillibridge was convinced to change their direction and had the murals removed from the building. Next, the Hage family acquired the murals and made a significant contribution to repair and restore them. This summer, the Nettie and M.K. Hage’s daughters, Jennifer, Patti, Charlotte, and Robin, proudly donated the murals to Mexic-Arte Museum.
We wholeheartedly thank the Nettie and M.K. Hage Family, Consulate General of Mexico, Sara Hickman, and all the community who rallied to save the Navarro-Barrajas murals.
Mexic-Arte Museum is honored to receive these important artworks. The preservation of the Rafael Navarro Barajas murals is of great importance for the Mexican and Mexican Americans as well as the general community in Austin. In addition to their cultural significance, the murals are also part of Austin’s history and the collective memories of local community members who have visited the Medical Park Tower for years. We invited the public to visit the Mexic-Arte Museum starting September 16 to view The Origin of Medicine Murals by Rafael Navarro Barajas.
Currently a Mexic-Arte Exhibit, Rafael Navarro Barjas mural, “The
Origins of Medicine.” Photo by Sylvia Orozco
Rafael Navarro Barajas in an undated photograph. Photo: Fundación Rafael Navarro Barajas