Margaret McCartney's article (Splendour in the grass, August 3) in The Guardian tells the story of an art therapist at a psychiatriac hospital in Scotland, who is trying to save the art works of patients and other outsider artists:
Several years ago, on a damp, dour Sunday, I was tired, disillusioned and uninspired, wandering a glum Aberdeen after a long shift as a junior doctor. The fingers of serendipity, however, gently pointed towards the art gallery door, where an exhibition of the work of Angus McPhee was on display. I had never heard of him. A crofter's son, he had died, aged 81, in 1997, and had been virtually mute for 50 years as an in-patient at a psychiatric hospital in Inverness.Read the rest: it's quite a story. If you really get interested, check out the American Visionary Art Museum, in Baltimore (which has previosly been trumpeted here by Mark Barry), the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and the quarterly magazine Raw Vision. I know that there are probably many similar stories from St. Elizabeths Hospital here in Washington, one of the places where art therapy was innovated (see my post from November 26, 2003), such as the Lace Maker who was a patient there. (Some of her work is owned by the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which received at least some collections of the museum that used to be at St. Elizabeths until the early 1990s.) I will see what I can find out about it.
There were boots - fragile, woven in grass [shown at right]; a vest - perfectly netted together with commas of sheep wool, caught on fences, taken and spun by Angus between his fingers. And sandals - a cushion of beech leaves embellished with a strap of twisted grass. There were hats - wide-brimmed sunhats and others in the Davy Crockett style; there were leads and harnesses for ponies, socks, waders and jumpers. All at once they seemed simple, complex, pointless, glorious.
McPhee's work was discovered by Joyce Laing, an art therapist who has been searching for what she calls "artists extraordinary" for the last 35 years."It means someone who is in touch with their subconscious," she says. "And although you don't have to have a mental illness to be an artist extraordinary, it is vanishingly rare outside of it."