Professor Finds Father's Lost Art in National Museum
By Nancy McGillicuddy
When Brian McMillen Googled his father’s name and the word “art” last year, the East Carolina University professor found several links to the works of his late father, Jack McMillen, including one at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.
McMillen asked officials if he could see the painting, which he believed to be in storage.
“They wrote back, ‘See it? It’s on the wall,’” said McMillen, who is a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine.
Jack McMillen, who was a commercial artist in New York City, painted the work, titled “Psychiatric Patients at Forest Glen,” in 1944 while he was recuperating at the Glen Forest Annex of Walter Reed General Hospital near Washington, D.C. McMillen, who was drafted into the Army for World War II at the age of 32, had undergone surgery for a benign tumor obstructing his esophagus.
Spanning the wall with its seven feet by ten-and-a-half feet measurements, the painting originally hung in the Forest Glen Annex until 1994 when it was restored at the request of the Office of the Surgeon General, so that the image could be used as a cover for a military psychiatry textbook. The restored painting was then hung in the national museum in 1998, one year before Jack McMillen died. But no one in the family knew of its new home.
McMillen said he believes his father’s work on the semi-abstract painting was both therapeutic for his recovery and a way for his father to thank the hospital staff.
“Probably for him it was both a therapy and somewhat of a way to give back,” he said.
The canvas painting was created from egg tempera, a combination of color pigment and egg yolk. McMillen said he is still discovering the image’s subtleties, for example the “thumbs up” gesture that one of the soldiers offers in reference to the passing by of a fetching female redhead.
“As you study the image, there are a bunch of different touches in there,” he said.
McMillen, who was in Washington, D.C. last year to present two papers for the 35th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, stopped by the museum while in town to see the image and offer more information to the museum about his father.
“They were excited to get more information about the artist,” he said.