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Craft Therapy, Then and Now.

 104756. New York Public Library
Staten Island's Halloran General Hospital, home of crafty recovering soldiers during World War II.

A few weeks ago at a Handmade Then and Now class (I'll teach this class next on July 16th at 2:15pm), I met a number of creative people, including a knitter named Maxine Levinson. Maxine works at the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department of the Kravis Children's Hospital at Mount Sinai, where she teaches young patients and their families how to knit. I learned from Maxine how knitting, like other creative arts therapies, can reduce anxieties and provide a sense of security during sometimes long and stressful hospital stays. Maxine told me, "I am very fortunate to be able to share my love of crafts in such a unique way."


Maxine's understanding of the healing element of crafts would have been appreciated by Halloran General Hospital administration, whose official endorsement is included in a 1945 book called Pastimes for the Patient by Marguerite Ickis. Halloran General Hospital, on Staten Island, served as a hospital for wounded servicemen during World War II. The commanding general wrote:

"In our experience with wounded soldiers at Halloran General Hospital, we know that a great part of the battle to recovery depends on a cheerful, hopeful outlook by the patient. For that reason it is important that, in addition to medical treatment during the recovery period, much thought and consideration be given to what the patient does or thinks about while he is hospitalized. Hospital days need no longer be full of dreary, interminable periods of inertia. They can become instead a time during which new interests are developed, new hopes aroused, new vistas explored."

Ickis's book offers tutorials on chip carving, leather work, sketching, photography, finger-painting, weaving, fly making, scrap-booking, pottery, rug-hooking, knot-tying, and more. And as Philip Hamburger reports in a 9/25/1943 New Yorker article, craft culture was indeed in full swing at Halloran. Many of the crafts described in Ickis's book are also mentioned by Hamburger. He also explains how a patient could create a phonograph recording of his voice to send home to family and friends.

If you are interested in the history of or contemporary research related to the use of arts and crafts in therapies, you will find many journals and books at the Library on the topic.


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I am a lucky girl because Maxine is my friend and I benefit from her creativity on special occasions. She is one talented and kind woman, in addition to giving the best gifts ever. Go Maxine and the Children's Creativity program at Mt. Sinai. She needs to spread her kindness to other hospitals too!


I have know Maxine since elementary school and she was a shining star way back then and now. She is the most unselfish, talented, gifted, and wonderful person I have ever met.


Good blog post. Here's a fine vintage photo from the Otis Archives of occupational therapy in a WWI military hospital:

Otis Historical Archives

Thanks so much! Otis Historical Archives has plenty on offer on flickr, and I'm ever so glad that you sent along this link, Bob!

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