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ON THE SCENE: Arts in health and Dr. Trudeau

September 27, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

More than 1,000 artists, creative arts therapists, architects, interior designers, and arts managers along with hospital CEOs, patient experience officers and facilities managers gathered at Boston's Hynes Convention Center Sept. 14-18 to share and discuss best practices for using the arts and design to enhance the patient experience.

The closing keynote presentation was given by the architect Alberto Salvatore, HED Healthcare Design Leader, and the MIT Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Health Mariana Arcaya. They urged those gathered to use their talents in community settings as a means of improving public health and well-being.

Fundamentally, they were asking for a national initiative similar to one Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau launched in Saranac Lake on a community level in 1909. Back then, at the request of his medical director, Dr. Lawrason Brown, Trudeau established a center for arts and crafts activities at the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium (changed to Trudeau Sanatorium after Trudeau's death in 1915). The program's goal was to provide tuberculosis patients with a sense of purpose, engage them with others and help them gain skills that could lead to new income streams.

Article Photos

Amy Catania, the executive director of Historic Saranac Lake, poses near a portrait of tuberculosis patient and composer Bela Bartok.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Brown was diagnosed with TB while in his third year as a student at the John Hopkins School of Medicine. They sent him to Saranac Lake for treatment, and he stayed for a year before returning to finish his final year at John Hopkins. He then returned to Saranac Lake to take up his professional duties in 1900.

Brown brought with him an interest in engaging patients in activities such as arts and crafts, bookbinding and gardening, a health initiative pioneered by Dr. Benjamin Rush, co-founder of the Philadelphia hospital, and Europeans Phillippe Pinel and physician Johann Christian Rell. Brown felt such activities as the study of ornithology, botany and various crafts would be good for the patients' emotional well-being. While doctors Rush and Rell developed their programs primarily for people with mental illnesses, Brown and Trudeau's focus was using the arts to support people living with a chronic disease.

Herbert Scholfield, a gifted patient, came to the sanitarium in 1902. After arriving, to keep himself and other fellow patients engaged, he started offering lessons in bookbinding and illumination. His skills and passion were just what Brown needed. Together they agreed on the importance of a building were arts activities could take place and sought Trudeau's support. Unique is that Brown, a medical doctor, was prescribing participation in the arts as part of his patients' treatment, an approach that's just now gaining traction in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Saranac Lake was ripe for this approach as so many of the TB patients were in the arts. An early example is Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of "Treasure Island" and "Kidnapped" and a patient from October 1887 to April 1888. His presence generated worldwide awareness of Trudeau's initiative, helping establish Saranac Lake as a health resort for people living with TB.

The reason such a high percentage of patients were in the arts is that creative people tend to live risky lives from a health perspective. They often wear themselves out in pursuit of their art. Plus they tend to be poorly remunerated for their artistic output, a situation that often leads to low nutrition, sleep and exercise. Underscoring that point is the depth and diversity of people in the arts that came to Saranac Lake in search of "the cure."

They include composers Bela Bartok and Charles Ives; writers Stephen Crane, Alfred Donaldson and W. Somerset Maugham; and theatrical agent William Morris. As so many performing artists had TB, theater promoter and vaudeville impresario Edward Franklin Albee organized the National Vaudeville Artists Home. The Home funded three cure cottages for those in the performing arts, cottages that, with the help of Morris, became the foundation for the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital, now an independent living facility called Saranac Village at Will Rogers.

Scholfield led the art cottage for the 16 years, a program that laid the foundation for the creation of the Saranac Artists Guild, which featured 20 teachers in the arts and crafts.

Historic Saranac Lake is exhibiting "Art of the Cure," which provides an overview of the arts and crafts program at the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium, along with photographs of a number of the artists who were helped by Trudeau, Brown, and Scholfield.

"The idea for this exhibit has been brewing for a very long time because there has been such interest in sanatorium's arts and crafts program," said Amy Catania, Historic Saranac Lake's executive director. "We've heard lots of stories about the artists that lived in Saranac Lake. We had lots of items in our collection that we wanted to show, and we've been offered relevant items for display by members of the community whose parents participated in the program. What's very interesting is that it was such an early program for using the arts for healing and the first of its kind for patients that were physically ill."

Trudeau knew he didn't have a magic bullet to cure the TB germ under the microscope. Thus, he sought to give his patients the best possible opportunity to get better. His program included fresh air, good food, moderate exercise and beautiful views. He used the arts to foster social relationships among the patients, keep them busy and develop a sense of purpose. Today, research has demonstrated that such activities can significantly enhance well-being and help people return to good health when they're ill. There have been advancements in medicine, surgical care, chemotherapy and other treatments, but they alone are not enough. We must care for the whole person.

The workshop at the sanatarium was so successful that there was a call to expand it so all patients in the community could participate in an arts and crafts program, patients whose number far exceeded those under the facility's direct care. The Study and Crafts Guild and soon other guilds were established in the village to meet this need expanding to include patient family members and residents as well.

"I learned just what a foundation the arts have in Saranac Lake," said Kaytlin Gochenaur, who organized the displays. "I always knew that Saranac Lake was a very artsy town. I never connected the dots as to why the arts was such a deep part of the community."

Back in Boston at the Healthcare Facilities Symposium and Expo, architect Alberto Salvatore and urban planner Mariana Arcaya were calling on the creative community to partner with medical centers and public health advocates and, essentially, re-create and expand upon what Trudeau, Brown and Scholfield had launched more than a century before in Saranac Lake. Sometimes a good idea takes a while to catch on.

"Art of the Cure" has been extended for another year at Historic Saranac Lake; it's well worth your time.



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