Drawing Out The Self


The Early History

Development of the Objective Approach

(48 pages, including 11 client drawings + 6 other images)

This chapter examines the cultural, social and practical contexts in which Irene and Selwyn Dewdney developed their new art therapy techniques, initially with hospitalized mental patients (many of them WWII veterans) in the 1950s and 1960s.

It considers the changes that came about in psychiatric hospitals with the introduction of psychotropic drugs. It compares the influence of other psycho-therapeutic theories, other forms of art therapy, the surge of interest in psychiatric art, and the lively arts community in London, Ontario, through the 1950s to 1970s.

Experiences with two key early patients are described in detail, with examples of how their drawings influenced the development of the Dewdney's Objective Approach to art therapy. By trial and error, the Dewdneys put aside earlier interests in the abstract expressions of emotion in patient art. They came to realize the therapeutic value of encouraging patients to do more realistic drawings.

Various academic influences and activities are discussed, including an unpublished paper that is shown as an appendix to this book. This study found that experienced health care providers were not very effective at diagnosing mental illness from drawings. Explanations are provided about why and how techniques like Picture Projection were substantially revised. This chapter ends with a description of how the Dewdney Approach was used in an early group home in the 1970s.

Frank Travis

More than any other patient we had the opportunity to work with at Westminster, Frank Travis stands out as a uniquely talented artist who produced extraordinary psychiatric art.

Frank Travis was born in 1918 and died around 1958.  He lived in Toronto with his mother and sister.  His father was a gambler and mostly absent from the home.  His mother had been a dancer, working with the Ziegfeld Follies.  When Selwyn visited the Travis home in the 60s, after Frank’s death, he was shown a picture of Frank’s mother dancing with the troop.

Frank went to the Ontario College of Art from high school but was called into the army during World War II.  It was at this time, during preliminary army training, that his mental health rapidly deteriorated.  He was discharged on grounds of mental illness. He was consequently declared schizoid, and sent to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.  He was moved to Westminster Veterans Hospital in London, Ontario, on June 9th, 1950 (Dewdney, 1950).  He was given a new diagnosis, “paranoid schizophrenic,” and, except for a brief period, spent the rest of his life in London.  The art produced by Frank Travis (there are many examples in the Dewdney Collection at The University of Western Ontario) are evidence of a person with considerable creative talent and technical skill.  Nonetheless, his images elicited biased responses from staff, due to his diagnosis.  Biased, that is, until Selwyn came into contact with him. During his stay at the psychiatric hospital, the Occupational Therapy Department, aware of Frank’s art college training, recognized his need to draw.  Consequently, Frank was given a small room so he could work alone.  He was supplied with pencils, pastels, paints, and lots of paper, mostly large brown rolls of wrapping paper.  Although the staff recognized his technical skills, the bizarre quality that came through in his drawings and paintings were viewed as evidence of his illness, not of his talent. Art Brut  was amazed at what this patient was producing.  When he saw Frank’s bizarre works, he regarded them as wonderful, creative and a wholly legitimate art form.  Selwyn knew he was in contact with the work of a fellow painter, and treated him as such.

Description: Description: fig-14 
      Double Face Travis

Figure 14 - Double Face
 Oil painting by Frank Travis (1950’s)