[also, disclaimer: the author is an educator teaching a peer-led art class at a local psychiatric hospital and a consumer of mental health services. The views express here are my own.]
I am adding a couple images of images I have been working on in the class. I have been trying to motivate students to revisit images they have created and develop them further, or in another medium. I am encouraging students to embrace sketches and developing their ideas into more fully realized and finished works. I find that getting to a finished work is a series of false starts, correcting errors in second or third (or, possibly more) treatments of the same image.
To that end, I have been working in acrylic on images I have done in charcoal or pencil or oil pastel before. The first image (of the angel) was a suggestion from a student. I began with a figure study in charcoal (not pictured) before moving on to paint. The second and third images are of a sketch in oil pastel and (a yet unfinished) portrait of the same subject. The image comes for the book “Suitcases From the Hospital Attic,” –which I have drawn from extensively and talked about in other blogs.
There’s not a lot to report. The ideas I talked about in the last class blog are more or less implemented, –insomuch as I have followed the recommendations of leaders in my field in peer-run art therapy programs to change how the class is taught. I have been working with the transition to a student-directed classroom in which the students choose and direct their own assignments. I’m looking for student to take a larger role in the direction of the class, making it more directed to suit their needs and interests. I choose topics and demonstrate them still, but encourage each student to choose their own projects, and many of my sketches address student questions directly.
The following images are my in class demonstrations going back over the past couple of months.
Thanks for looking in. I am hoping to begin to look for the donations, I am working on getting away from the class being “institutional,” and more like an artists studio outside a psychiatric hospital. To this end, I need supplies, beyond what the hospitals budget usually pays for. We have paint, pencils, and paper galore. I was able to get a lightbox and a couple croquios through a grant. What I am really looking for are things like canvas, easels, and other item that might be able to be donated, so students have opportunities to work bigger dream bigger and in in more durable mediums. Almost anything will help my students. If you are interested in helping make for a more realized program here, use my e-mail contact in the about section of the Eleven Images blog.
I have noticed that lately I have not updated about the class for some time. So, I figured that doing so was needed. Today, I am digging through old photos on my hard drive to find a good image –a figure– to draw from, to use as a source image for a new work. Among the images I am working with is this image of my partner, shot with a digital camera, reclining in bed. This is my pencil rendering: There are a few things currently leading me to change approaches with the class. As I have talked about in other blog posts, over the past fall I was able to travel with a colleague from the Office of Mental Health to The Living Museum in Rockland Psychiatric Center, and the original Living Museum in Queens, NY, at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. During those times I met with clients of both hospitals who participated in Living Museum activities, as well as had lengthy face-to-face meeting with Chris Randolph (director of the Rockland Living Museum) and Janos Martin (director of the Creedmoor Living Museum). Both Chris Randolph and Janos Martin were very helpful and encouraging, –and excited that a peer run program is coming to CDPC. CDPC is a much smaller psychiatric hospital, up the Hudson River, in Albany, NY. Both of them, however, recommended that one of the first changes I needed to make to my own program at CDPC was to change my teaching approach. I needed to model on my emerging program on the principles important to the Living Museum programs and other peer programs like it. I had been, as a teacher, essentially approaching the class as a teacher-directed lesson. I had been teaching the class by choosing the topic. I then led the class in developing that particular skill I was teaching.
This was a method that worked well at the not-profit class I was assisting with. Most of my students seemed comfortable with the approach. However, there’s a great deal of merit in the idea of letting mentally ill people direct their own projects. The idea is more than just window dressing, it’s essentially to giving people their own agency to direct their own interests and own their own ideas and projects. My conversation with Dr. Martin, especially, hammered home the idea that this is essential to the therapeutic push of peer/consumer led programming. Perhaps my own illness make me a slow learner, that I need to hear the same impassioned argument made twice to cede a bit of control. But this is the direction I am going. I am determined to have a program like a Living Museum program at this hospital. I would like to turn more control for the program over to peers. So far, my students have been responding well to the changes and are excited. We have a couple big projects coming up: I am doing the Art on Eight exhibit with another talented artist (currently hospitalized) –which is exciting–, and there is a cultural fair I am priming students to develop ideas for. It’s an exciting time for me, making art and teaching at the hospital.
Yesterday, I posted about my visit to The Living Museum at Rockland Psychiatric Center. It was an unexpected surprise when my OMH colleagues arrived at Rockand with enough time ahead of their meeting that we spent about twenty minutes driving through the sprawling campus. Rockland opened in 1931 –when it accepted 60 male patients– to ease overcrowding at Manhattan State Hospital. At it’s peak, Rockland may have had as many as 9,000 patients and 2,000 staff. (Asylum Projects website, aylumprojects.org).
Post-deinstitutionalization, Rockland seems to have been abandoned in stages. Closest to the road, many of the buildings are so overgrown as to be difficult to photograph through brush. Closer to the administration building (and the modern hospital complex) the buildings are abandoned, and derelict, but covered with ivy of vivid color –since it seems my trip to Rockland coincided with the areas peak time for fall foliage.
Since it is so expensive to knock down the large, old buildings, they are allowed to stand and decay. Closer to the administration building, however, it appears some some of the older campus is being re-purposed for out-patient, vocational and other therapeutic purposes. A walking path goes right through the abandoned parts of the campus. None of the buildings are fenced off from the rest of the campus –which still hosts a variety of patient services and hospital/rehabilitation services. When I had finished my meeting and tour with the director of the Living Museum, I spent about an hour walking the grounds and taking pictures. Some of the photos were taken from the car as I first arrived.
[click on the photos to view them full sized]
Currently, Rockland serves a patient (historically speaking) small population between various programs. They are some of the regions most severely ill. A large part of their current population is also deaf. Nonetheless, I felt quite welcome in the cafe and other patients areas. I chatted briefly with patients and peer mentors. One woman who I spoke to was deaf. I explained with a mix of gesture and spoken language (since many deaf can lip-read to an extent) that I was interested in the art and visting because of that. As it turned out, I later saw her working away in the Living Museum (art therapy studio at Rockland) doing a reproduction of an impressionist piece.
[I want to present a brief afterword: I hope in my presentation here, people find respect and sensitivity to my subject matter. Remember these are places where the mentally ill lived a part of their lives, where people worked. There are, I found after my return home, two cemeteries (one contemporary, and one older) on the grounds of the hospital. May they all rest in peace.]
First of all, many thanks to Julie at OMH for making this possible, by letting me hitch a ride. Secondly, thanks to Chris Randolph of the Rockland Living Museum for being so generous with her time.
I didn’t teach my usual class today. I actually spent the day riding down to Rockland Psychiatric Center to view that hospital complex. Mostly, I am looking to see the Rockland Living Museum. The Living Museum at Creedmore has long been the act to follow in what I do. It’s my goal at CDPC to create a peer-run art therapy program that makes meaningful changes in the lives of the students in my classroom. Through a conversation with my contact for the Art on 8 gallery shows, I learned she makes frequent trips to Rockland Psychiatric Center. There’s a counterpart to Creedmore’s Living Museum there. So, at 8:30am this morning I was standing around the OMH Central Office on Holland Avenue, to catch a ride to Rockland Psychiatric Center.
My goal here was a simple one: to see what people at larger, long-running art therapy programs were doing and learn from that. Compared to CDPC which has a capacity of about 136 people in a single building, Rockland has a sprawling campus of buildings (many of which are abandoned). Post-deinstitutionalization, Rockland is a much smaller operation than when its reputation was much grimmer. I had heard about Rockland because of an innovative art program. A little searching around the web reveals the hospital was once considered a pretty bleak and hopeless place by many locals (its location is about 17 miles north of Manhattan). As I’m researching this blog about the history of Rockland, I quickly loose interest in the more salacious bits of its history. Grim suggestions of an overwrought staff and abused and neglected population dominates a lot of commentary from those who knew it or lived or worked there. I’m not looking for horror stories, not now, though I may read up on that later.
Lately, I am in the business of looking for answers to help even the sickest of Albany’s psychiatric patients recover and reintegrate into the community as much as possible. What I do, I do to get people well and empowering them to keep it that way. I have to believe people do recover and stay well, because I need to believe it for myself. Before I taught an art class at CDPC (as I remind the students in my classroom) I sat in the same chairs they are sitting in. Art therapies are a way to bring people out, and help them recover from severe and persistent mental illness. That’s what brings me to meet Chris Randolph today.
Chris Randolf is an art therapist. Her professional profile on a popular web site shows she once worked at a private facility in the same upstate New York county I was raised in, near a hospital where I was sometimes hospitalized, all in the city where I lived in a group home for 9 months. She’s the director of Rockland’s Living Museum, and over the phone she agrees to meet with me when I describe myself as the teacher of a peer-run art class. She does this a day before my arrival. She is even unfazed when my ride calls and asks her to meet me a couple hours ahead of when the Living Museum opens.
It’s far too warm for a day in October. I tend to be extraordinarily anxious in longer car rides. Mercifully, I get a stop at the rest stop mid-way. Lately especially, whenever I am in situations I can’t get up and move around I get stressed out. Nonetheless, since we arrive early, I am offered a breif tour of the whole facility before we park to sign in at the modern main building.
Much of Rockland’s Campus is a series of ivy-covered, abandoned buildings. I am treated to the site of decaying structures bedecked in color, thanks to turning leaves. Here is one of those images, but I am intending most of that for another blog.
My traveling companions sign in, and in a few minutes, Chris is on her way to pick me up to bring me across campus to Building 19, where the Living Museum anchors a large room of one side of the Recovery Center. We park in a small lot at the back, and Chris begins to show me the work that takes up her day from 1-4, when the Living Museum is open. She has the help of art therapy interns to work directly with the patients. Still, she seems to have a small anecdote for nearly every object outside. Aftr seeing the garden, we get into the actual studio in which the museum’s art is created, by residents of the hospital (many of whom are beginning to transition out of inpatient care).
The Rockland Living Museum was developed based on the pioneering Living Museum at Creedmore Hospital in Queens, NYC. The emphasis is on a peer-run program which uses art therapy to empower patients and assist recovery from mental illness. Under the direction of Dr. Janos Marton, a 2002 New York Times profile described the mission of the Living Museum as being a place of “refuge” where “over 800 men and women shed their identities as psychiatric patients and bloomed as artists.”
Patients simply come into the Living Museum space, and without lessons, or direction, they make art. That art has been widely exhibited. It is a series of paintings by patients at the Rockland Museum that piques my interest. At the Art on 8 exhibit (which I have my own work in, as do many of my CDPC students) a conversation about the work in the show from the Rockland Living Museum results in a plan for me to visit Rockland.
My own program is a nascent one. I have only just begun working in the hospital in April. I hear many complimentary statement from students. My class is something they look forward to all day and all week. I know I can make it more meaningful and powerful for my students. I know my story is compelling to them. I was sick on and off a long time. I got hospitalized, voluntarily or involuntarily, a lot. Now, I live in my own apartment and pay my bills. I haven’t needed a hospitalization in 4 years. I know it probably seems to my students that I know something they don’t. If there’s any truth to that at all, the thing I know is this: I need all of them as much as they need me.
That I am teaching again is important to me. Also, it matters that I am teaching people with whom I share a common struggle with chronic mental illness. Its my personal belief is that mentally ill people need to create a community of mutual support for each other. That’s why I do peer mentoring. I teach art because creating art has always been a large part of my own recovery and healing from mental illness. We as a community of psychiatric survivors, –we need to do it for ourselves.
The underlying purpose of the Living Museum is to place art therapy, not as peripheral to people’s recovery, rather creative expression is vital to real and lasting recovery from mental illness. Art groups shouldn’t be in psychiatric hospitals to keep the mentally ill busy. The purpose of art therapy is to make people well. I believe this, of course, because it matches with my own experience. The historical connection between creativity and “madness” is long and widely studied. I’m a working visual artist, as well as a teacher. I know I do much better when I make creativity and expression my purpose.
After Chris picks me up at Rockland’s central building, I launch on a whirlwind tour of the Rockland Living Museum. We start with its garden. Chris explains that she has about a half-hour before some other responsibility she must attend to. In a short time I have seen a lot of things which inspire me, and leave me with a great number of ideas for my own work at CDPC. I also see the enormity of the task I’m trying to undertake.
The garden grows flowers, or herbs and vegetables intended for use in the food at the Big Rock Café. The cafe is a locus of food and conversation for many patients, and its walls also serve to exhibit work done by patients in the Living Museum.
In the Living Museum’s garden, some patients have taken plastic bottles and fashioned them as flowers decorated in vivid colors. Some patients have decorated the ground with painted stone tiles. Another has made small seats for rest or contemplation. Still others simply tend the garden and their contribution is watering the plants and weeding. It strikes me that Chris not only knows each person and their contribution to the garden, but she seems to have found a way to match each person to a way their skills and limitations still allow them to take a meaningful part.
For those of us in the peer/consumer movement, this is what’s known as a “strengths based approach.” The medical model of treatment focused on the deficits of a ill person. Medical professionals list symptoms, and address limitations. Throughout my time in the Rockland Living Museum, the focus remains on building and fostering the skills and abilities of people in treatment. Participants in the Living Museum direct their own projects. They choose their creative medium based on their already presents skills and interests. One man, Tommy, does most of the building in wood, a large section of the room is a dedicated space where he builds benches, chairs, stools and many other projects.
Most of the spaces for the museum’s artists are individual. The space is adapted to the artist and their interests and personalities. Some artists work is crafts or jewelry. The work is self directed, and flexible. Spaces have shelves of donated books, and a small radio for listening to music.
In the Living Museum, Chis leads me around from one project to another. Since the space is not yet open and no artists are present, she patiently answers all my questions about her work as director. She relates how the Living Museum started. At the beginning it was just her. Chris gives me many thoughtful recommendations for my own program. Much of the supplies, furniture and other projects are donated items, or carefully gleaned from sites like Craigslist and other free resources. The Living Museum is staffed, in part, by partnering with educational institutions nearby. But primarily, Chris stresses the need to create a program which eschews the traditional therapeutic model. Instead, she insists on a program which empowers patient autonomy and choice. This maxim underlies the program here.
This is of course, something I want for my own program. Changing a deeply entrenched institutional culture is a large task.
After I have seen the actual Living Museum itself, I briefly tour the larger Recovery Center –which constitutes the rest of Building 19. I see spaces that host group therapy, vocational training, computer access, music and performance space, and display space for some of the patient created wares from the Living Museum. I’m given an overview of the other programs. There is an all-day roster of groups available to patients (patients choose their own groups, and participate in creating new groups). I meet both hospital residents and peer mentors like myself. Chris eventually has a supervision to attend to, and I go to the café for lunch.
It’s in the café that The Recovery Center feels institutional to me for the first time. Though the food is fine, and the space is well decorated with the Living Museum’s art, several people mill about the cafe or in front of it in an idle and purposeless way. A couple of the cafés patrons approach me either wanting my coffee, or cigarettes. I talk to a couple of people there, and eventually leave to photograph the wooded, picturesque grounds. Much of the hospital’s campus is abandoned and overgrown. It makes a beautiful subject for my camera, since photographing abandoned buildings is a longstanding hobby of mine.
While I am walking the grounds, seeing all the wrecked former hospital buildings, it seems the hospital campus was abandoned in stages. Nearer the road, buildings are lost almost entirely in overgrowth, and as one gets closer to the center of campus and its modern buildings some of the older buildings are being returned to use. I am not sure, but it is likely that building 19 itself, where the Living Museum is housed, began the renaissance of the older buildings being renovated. It’s speculation on my part, but meaningful speculation.
That I was pestered for cigarettes, money, and coffee in the café reminds me that the needs of the mentally ill are great. People whose needs are being met aren’t listlessly sitting about looking for an opportunity to solicit something they don’t have or have enough of. Back at home, (my work at CDPC) there are a great number of people that need to be meaningfully engaged in addressing their own needs. Those needs may be educational, vocational, or –pertinently– creative expression.
There’s a lot of work to do.
Among my favorite subject matter for sketching over the past several years have been cabinet photos. Cabinet photos were a late 19th century print-making process. Photographers took the photos –generally in their shops and they were often used to advertise for the photographer. These photos satisfied the fascination of Victorian era people with access to an emerging technology –photography. The cabinet photo was extraordinarily popular until about the turn of the twentieth century. There are an abundance of them, and they can generally be bought for only a few dollars per photo.
For a couple of years now, I have been buying cabinet photos from The White Whale, an antique shop in Hudson, NY, each time I have vacationed there. The cabinet photos make for arresting portraiture studies to me for several reasons. First, photography was still expensive and most cameras were only in the hands of professional photographers. This means that most cabinet photos are of regular people, dressed in their best clothes, who must have traveled “into town,” to have their portrait taken. The cards I have bought are often of young women, dressed in probably what is their best dress. So, drawing ordinary people of modest means has a certain appeal.
The second consideration is more of a technical one. Photography was still a technology in its infancy. Long exposures and the process of print-making often did not produce as crisp an image as what we are used to today. In the image I am using, taken by photographer F. C. Flint, of Syracuse, NY, the skin-tones of the woman photographed are pretty uniformly the white of the paper, as are most of the woman’s intricate lace dress. There’s little to go on to draw the normal contours and shadows of the woman’s face, except for some shadow around the eyes and under the woman’s chin. For the way I tend to sketch portraiture, the lack of detail forces you to develop those details yourself, and intuitively. You have to learn to fill in the missing information with a good intuitive sense of anatomy and texture.
A second cabinet photo, this time the image is based on a photo from Farrand & Neale, 18th and 6th Ave, NYC.
The face in the photo is placid. For whatever reason she seems anxious and terrified as I draw her. A reflection of my own state, perhaps. Nonetheless, thank you for viewing.
Also, below the woman’s face, her shoulders and chest begin to disappear in shadow. It’s a challenge to draw with a fair deal of detail from the image, and another challenge to replicate (in pencil) the vanishing light around the edges of the image in Victorian era photography.
This new drawing I found interesting to do, because of the elaborate clothing and the amount of detail in the photo. The image I am working from (the actual photo print) is very small, about 2 and 1/4″ by 4″. This particular photo is much smaller than most of the cabinet photos in my collection, although the others vary as well, in size and shape.
Cabinet photos can generally be found in antique shops locally, and can also be found online. They make a very interesting subject, in my mind for practicing portraiture.
I take my son to the library a couple days a week. He lives with his mother. Between helping him with long division and fractions I sometimes sketch from photography books in the library. These sketches are from a book by Tom Ang that I have drawn from before. Pencil on paper:
Prior to the beginning of class, I did these three studies of people walking in the hall.
I am adding some more sketches from my sketch book. First some simple studies:
Finally, I began earlier in the month drawing images from the book “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from the State Hospital Attic.” It’s been a book I have returned to again and again, some of the photos are archived photos of patients from the New York State Department of Health, and some are photos done for this book by photographer Lisa Rinsler. The photos make exceptional studies, and since I do peer work in psychiatric hospitals, and have been in and out of psychiatric care for much of my adult life, the subject is a meaningful one to me personally. I did these studies (of patients who lived in Willard State Hospital during the twentieth century) with what I hope is a great deal of sensitivity. Also, I hope I am not miss-attributing any images that I have used as source material in these sketches:
All sketches are pencil on paper:
A better image of Lawrence, who was a patient and Willard hospital’s long-time grave digger.
Another patient, Dymitre, an artist who painted images of his home village while at Willard.
Sister Marie, who was a nun before coming into psychiatric care.
Ethel, at an advanced age by the time this picture was taken. All of the first names used in the book were the patient’s actual names, the last names used in the book were pseudonyms to protect the confidentiality of the patients.
This last image is a study of a window in an endangered historic building, in Hudson, NY. This is a window in the First Presbyterian Church, on Warren Street –Hudson’s main commercial thoroughfare. The sketch is in charcoal and pencil:
I have been doing a lot of sketching over the last couple days. Most of these are simple studies which I am developing for small works. This sketch though, is one of the more complete renderings i have done over the last couple days.
The image comes from the book “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from the State Hospital Attic” by Darby Penny and Peter Statsny (photographs by Lisa Rinsler). It was a museum exhibit based on the compiled information in this book that launched my interest in State Psychiatric Hospitals and the patients that lived there. I periodically borrow this book from my local library to read it again. The image here is Lawrence Marek, who was a patient and worked in the hospital’s cemetery from 1937 until his death in 1968 at age 90. This blog by John Crispin talk more about the suitcase project:
After this sketch, I am, of course, working on new works for myself, and for the small paintings I have been doing. I wanted to share this sketch though, as well as it’s excellent source material (worth checking out –very much– on its own).
Sorry that the image is not the best quality, but I am still without a proper digital camera to take pictures of new works. Hoping some of the work I have currently exhibited sells, so I have an opportunity to replace my digital. Because, there rally are a lot of new works lately.
Lately, I have been feeling slightly barren of ideas for new works. So, I have returned to sketching a few ideas out in my sketchbook. Two ideas I am developing, today:
I am fortunate enough to have my own still model. At times when she is not too busy, she’s offered to pose for me, and I haven’t taken advantage of that nearly so much as I should. In the past she has done art modeling and still modeling.
I have just done a simple line drawing. I needed to make sure I can capture the pose. The main struggle here is getting the line of the spine correct when the body is reclined to the side, and since the legs are brought forward, they must be fore-shortened. It is possible I have foreshortened them too much here. I am going to keep working with this pose, there’s probably a larger work coming out of this in acrylic or oil.
The other piece is a simple sketch of an old church in Hudson. The church is currently endangered and there is a strong sentiment in the city to restore and preserve the church. So far as I know, the work is ongoing, both to raise the funds needed, and do stabilization work.
There were several other pieces I have done in my sketch book. This first one is of a church that –quite regrettably– met with the wrecking ball locally. This is an image of St. Patrick’s Church, which was recently demolished to make for a new grocery store in Watervliet, NY.
A lot of the sketching I have been doing at lately, I have been doing at work while I’m waiting for the class to start. The sketches tend to be of plants in the common areas. There’s also a sketch in here from a book I took out of the library on digital photography, “Digital Photography Masterclass” by Tom Ang.