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Art Therapy


There was a time when I understood or thought I did or pretended to. I was wrong.

Howard is helping to catalogue the Memorial Gallery Collection, one hundred fifty artworks, more or less, acquired since the GAR exhibit of 1912. Next year will mark its centennial. Howard has shared a few images with me but I think he’s holding back the best, a surprise for the travelling show next fall. 

When the Book Club organized an art exhibit in September 1912, no one imagined much more than a month of polite gawking until the two dozen works were safely back with their anxious owners. The level of public taste elevated ever so slightly, we could return to our little lives in small-town America. But the collection became permanent—as permanent as anything can be—and evolved into something unexpected. Evolution often works that way.

Each of these one hundred fifty works prompts a story—obtuse, convex, arcane—but a story nonetheless of its link with Agincourt’s past. Each work becomes a little lens—telescope, microscope, periscope, proctoscope—aids to the naked eye, helping us see farther, closer, overhead, round the bend, and deep within. Jean-Willy Mestach was right: We are what we collect.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Just what is normal, anyway?

When television succeeds, it gives us archetypes. “Cheers” did with Sam Malone; “WKRP in Cincinnati” gave us Dr Johnny Fever. “Star Wars” may be the most archetypically-driven story in entertainment history. Google “Carl Jung” and “archetypes” some time (but watch out for more New Age sites than even Jung could have imagined!) and explore the range of types you’ll find there. On a good day, I’m the Fool.

Remember, there’s a not-so-fine line betwixt character and caricature.

Writing about Agincourt as often as I do—some have said I write about nothing else—archetypes leap from our community narrative. Rev Frances Manning, for example, was our Guide (albeit a wounded one); Anson Tennant (great-uncle Anson) our Wanderer. The late Abel Kane was Mystic or Magus. And then there was Reinhold Kölb, a born Healer if there ever was one among us.


It’s not strange that Kölb’s name should come up in the Memorial Collection context. His sister and brother-in-law, the Wassermans, gave two pieces from their family still living in Austria. But Kölb’s contributions came in a more obtuse way, not even directly from him.

Herr Dr Reinhold Kölb opened a private clinic here in 1925, Walden Retreat located appropriately at the east end of Thoreau Avenue. As a disciple of Jacob Levy Moreno, Kölb used drama therapy and produced the remarkable Puppet Theatre in The Commons until the early 1940s—another link with the innovative mental health treatment at our sister city Geel, Belgium. But by the mid-40s Kölb had begun to explore art therapy as an alternative—with the help of his nephew Carl.

Kölb’s clinic closed in 1953, became a retirement home and then simply apartments. And we would have known little of his art therapy until a remodelling project of 1970: carpenters removed a wall and found a storage closet sealed for almost twenty years. Inside? Mops, brooms, buckets, and a folio of art! More than a dozen small paintings on scraps of unstretched canvas. It’s tempting to wonder about their meaning and how they fit into a community collection. Anonymous, troubled and troubling works; visceral yet compelling for that very reason.

I am certainly no art historian. Neither am I qualified to offer psychological insight or advice. But I am prepared to say these cast-offs belong exactly where they are. I’ll tell you more about them next week.

In the meantime, normalcy can take a hike.

And when the exhibit travels to Fargo next year, they may well become the show-within-the-show-within-the-show.


  1. […] Kölb, for example, our resident psychotherapist from the mid-20s until his death. Kölb introduced art therapy to the repertoire of health care in the community. And, in the remarkable way the one generation […]

  2. […] of the earlier entries connected with Reinhold Kölb can be found here and here. Jim (a.k.a. Seamus) Tierney is “Ghost of Christmans Past” […]

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