Edward Adamson supervising patients in the art studio at Netherne Hospital, England, undated
The Cunningham Dax Collection
David J de L. Horne
Copyright The Dax Centre
Netherne Hospital 1965
Several years before coming to Melbourne, I was a post graduate student of Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London (1964 to 1966). The course there was both extremely intensive and exceedingly well organised. It included a series of visits to a number of mental health/psychiatric services and institutions around London. In that era the role of large, all encompassing Psychiatric Hospitals (or Mental Asylums, as they were called) still reigned supreme; although the beginnings of change were apparent.
I clearly recall one of these visits was to Netherne Hospital. What stands out in my mind was that part of our tour included a visit to the Art Studio that had been created for patients to use as they pleased, and not as a specific part of therapy. There was a male resident artist who gave an explanatory talk to us and showed some of the work that patients had done. What I most vividly recall, was a sculpture in wood of a person that had then been systematically carved away over a period of time, until all that was left was a slender curved residual shape of an ultra thin human body. The artist, as I recall, said that when almost nothing of the body was left that patient (a man) had committed suicide. He stated that he wished that the significance of the carving for the patient had been recognised by the mental health staff at the time, and the patient’s loss of life prevented.
That experience is still firmly embedded in my memory and constantly reminds me of the importance of appreciating the artistic and creative expression of those who are very distressed and suffering from mental health problems.
In my own psychotherapy work I am always interested in a person’s use of imagery and creative ideas, in addition to their more direct verbal communication about their concerns.
Little did I know at that time, in 1965, that the Netherne Hospital Art Studio was an important contribution of Dr Eric Cunningham Dax to patient welfare. His name may have been mentioned but I have no recall of that.
However, the experience of that visit certainly served to prime my interest in Dr Dax’s work when I met him during my first year (1969) in Melbourne, as a young lecturer in the University Department of Psychiatry, and later on, to work to ensure his unique collection of “psychiatric art” was saved for posterity.
David J de L. Horne
What is The Dax Centre
History of The Dax Centre
The Art of Psychiatry
Trees and Their Meaning
The Art of Ekphrasis
The Stigma of Mental Illness - Donna Lawrence
The Artist as Outsider
The Art of Reflection
Art in a Therapeutic Context Today
Story education resources
Education Making Sense: Art and Mental Health Education Kit
This Education Resource links to relevant learning outcomes for:
- VCE Psychology (Units 1 – 4),
- VCE Health and Human Development (Units 1-2),
- Health and Physical Education: Health and Promotion, AusVELS levels 8 – 10.
- Other areas that may be relevant are: VCE Art, VCE Studio Arts, Visual Arts AusVELS levels 8 – 10, Humanities (History) AusVELS level 10.