Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Art of the Cure

cure craftsDuring the years Saranac Lake was a health resort, many TB patients filled their time by making arts and crafts. These activities furnished a crucial sense of purpose for people struggling with isolation and boredom.

Before antibiotics, there was no real cure for TB, so doctors and nurses helped patients fight the disease by supporting their immune systems in every possible way. They provided good nursing care, healthy food, rest, moderate exercise, and attention to mental health through occupational therapy. At the Trudeau Sanatorium Workshop, and later at the Study and Craft Guild in town, patients and community members learned jewelry making, basket weaving, painting, and much more.

This past spring, we opened an exhibit titled “The Art of the Cure,” presenting some of the beautiful arts and crafts that grew out of our local history. Thinking about the parallels with our present times, I ducked into the museum this week to pick out a story from the exhibit to share.

I thought I would spend five minutes, but I couldn’t pull myself away. I couldn’t choose just one story. Dr. Trembley’s carved ducks, Temming jewelry, Mott’s pottery, paintings by Amy Jones, Kollecker’s photos — these creations all resonate in a deeper way in this strange new time. These objects, which have all outlasted the artists who made them, have stories to tell about the creativity and optimism of the human spirit in the face of a dreaded disease.

craftsAfter carefully looking over everything on display, for some reason I kept thinking about one artifact that didn’t even make it into the exhibit, a pipe holder that has been in storage in our collection. A patient made the pipe holder in the occupational therapy workshop and gave it to Dr. Gordon Meade. Dr. Meade kept it his whole life, and a few years ago Dr. Meade’s son Jim donated it to our museum. We do not know who created this humble object, but we can trust that the person found a sense of purpose in making it. And today this pipe holder is a lasting expression of gratitude, a statement about the friendship between a patient and his doctor.

In order to make “The Art of the Cure” available during these homebound days, we have uploaded the entire exhibit online here. I hope you will take a tour, and let us know what stories resonate for you.


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Amy Catania is the Executive Director of Historic Saranac Lake.

2 Responses

  1. Naj Wikoff says:

    In the early 20th century, TB was the second-leading cause of death only surpassed by the influenza pandemic. As a consequence, the work of the Trudeau got world-wide attention, as did the pioneering use of the arts as part of a patients treatment plan. Before these activities, the art were used in the treatment of people living with mental health issue, Van Gogh being able to paint while in an asylum being an example, but rarely of a physical health condition. The work of the Trudeau Sanatorium and the the Crafts Guild helped change that. Today the creative arts therapies and arts in healthcare programs are taking place world-wide and are increasingly respected as a vital means of advancing public health as well as being part of the treatment of many major diseases and aspects of trauma. Saranac Lake played a large role in planting the seeds that resulted in that growth. This exhibit, The Art of the Cure, tells how that happened – how it all began.

  2. Bob Van Alstine says:

    My mother cured at Trudeau Sanatorium from 1936 to about 1938. While she was there she had a procedure called Pneumothorax. This procedure collapsed her lung so she could heal more effectively. She was one of the first patients to have both lungs collapsed.

    My mother’s name was Alma Day.

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