This collection includes over 900 pieces of art that were created by patients at the Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) in the mid-1950’s. The artists were under the treatment of Albert R. Vercoutere who used the technique of providing photos from magazines for the patients to use as inspiration for their own artwork. Although not trained in the use of art therapy and during a time when art therapy was a new approach, Vercoutere often utilized art as a mechanism for working with his patients. The artwork was created during a time when psychotropic drugs were not yet available as treatment options for mental health patients.
The collection is divided into two sub-collections (1) the artwork and (2) information about Vercoutere. The artwork from 34 artists and some unidentified artists is predominantly paintings (watercolors and oil), pencil and crayon drawings, and a few ceramics, wood carvings, and woven textiles. The artwork demonstrates a wide range of techniques, artistic abilities, and mental states. Vercoutere’s notes written on the artwork or in his memoirs that mentions some of the artists are included when available. Names of the artists are not provided in order to protect confidentiality. Names included on the artwork were digitally removed. From the 1970’s, images of several paintings were included in psychology text books as examples of the state of mind of patients with various psychological disorders. In addition to the artwork, the collection also includes papers and other documents from and about Vercoutere that provide a context for the artwork, including a scrapbook, newspaper clippings, and correspondence with publishers.
This digital collection focuses on Vercoutere’s career while at ASH. Other documents related to his years at the Camarillo State Hospital are included in the physical archives that are part of the USC Chan Archive at the Center for Occupation and Lifestyle Redesign https://chan.usc.edu/about-us/archive. Janice Vercoutere donated her husband’s materials to the Norris Medical Library of the USC Libraries in 2016.
Al Vercoutere graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1954 as an occupational therapist and later completed post-graduate work at USC and the University of California, Los Angeles. Vercoutere was the first occupational therapist at ASH, a position he assumed shortly after his graduation from USC in 1954. During his time at ASH, he was the Assistant Supervisor of Rehabilitation. Vercoutere left ASH in 1961 to become Chief of Rehabilitation Services, Program Director and Community Liaison Officer at Camarillo State Hospital. Vercoutere also taught at Ventura and Oxnard Community Colleges and the San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge).
The donation was received by Janis Brown, Associate Director, System & Information Technology, Norris Medical Library. Brown also oversaw the preparation of the collection into the digital library. Atascadero State Hospital was informed of this project and has acknowledged its acceptance. Brown thanks Darlene Libby for assistance with identifying the art media, and from the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Christine Peters, Ph.D., Occupational Therapy Historian and Consultant, for her explanations about Occupational Therapy history, and Deborah Pitts, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Occupational Therapy, for her insights about occupational therapy and rights of mental health patients.