Community and Connection

Adamson Collection

Celebrating Edward Adamson, pioneer of art therapy in the NHS

The Maudsley Charity has supported the Adamson Collection Trust through grants to produce a documentary and celebrate the work of Edward Adamson, pioneer of art therapy in the NHS.

The legacy of this work continues to benefit artists working with the Bethlem Gallery, allowing new generations of people to engage in the collection and develop artistic responses to it.

Art created by people who lived in European mental asylums

The Adamson Collection is one of the major international collections of art objects made by people who lived in European mental asylums. It holds about 5,500 objects (paintings, drawings, ceramics, sculptures, and works on stone, flint and bone) created between 1946 and 1981, by people at the British long-stay mental hospital, Netherne.

The Maudsley Charity supports the work of the Adamson Collection Trust and provided a grant to produce an award-winning documentary about the collection and to hold the Adamson Festival, celebrating the collection and marking the 30-year anniversary of Adamson’s publication ‘Art as Healing’.

The collection is important in the histories of British asylums and post-war psychiatry, of art therapy and of outsider art. It was encouraged and collected by an artist Edward Adamson, rather than a psychiatrist, and strongly represents the work of women.

Adamson collection
The art gallery of patient works, opened in 1956 by Adamson at Netherne Hospital.

Rediscovery of an important collection

Speaking about the collection, Dr David O’Flynn, Chair of the Adamson Collection Trust and consultant psychiatrist says: ‘The collection has recently been rediscovered; paintings and drawings have been conserved at the Wellcome Library in collaboration with the Adamson Collection Trust. Recently Adamson’s philosophy and practice have been re-examined at an international level. The support from the Maudsley Charity made a positive contribution towards this.’

The collaboration is a research opportunity enabling artists to develop their careers and practice in collaboration with organisations such as the Wellcome.

Today you can see parts of the collection on display at Oak House at Lambeth Hospital and at Wellcome.

Dr David OFlynn Adamson Collection

Image caption: ‘Art as Healing’ Reception at the Speaker’s House, Palace of Westminster. Dr David O’Flynn addressing the Reception, attended by Ministers, Members of both Houses, and senior Civil Servants.

Adamson Bethlem Gallery
Beth Hopkins conducted a research project around the Adamson Collection

Artist Beth Hopkins has been able to explore previously unseen parts of the Adamson Collection and create responses to the works through visual and written mediums. Through this work we have created a unique and extraordinary partnership which brings together three complementary resources: global context, historic material and living artists.

Beth explains,‘Working with the Adamson Collection and the Wellcome Library has been a real boost to my own practice. I now think of myself as an ‘artist researcher’, and it has given me the skills to tackle bigger projects.

‘In October 2017 Bethlem Gallery offered me the opportunity to do a research project at the Wellcome Library. I chose to explore the Adamson Collection, which is a rich and colourful archive of art made by people who lived in Netherne Hospital, an asylum in Surrey. This chimed with my own work which explores my experience of mental illness.’

‘I embroidered portraits of the patients’

Beth continues, ‘I wanted to make my own art in dialogue with the collection. I began painting some of the artworks onto fabric. I also embroidered portraits of the patients, alongside notes by Edward Adamson. I then sewed all these fragments together to form a wall hanging. I will be presenting this to staff at the Wellcome Library, which is a big step for me as I am not used to public speaking!

‘I will also be delivering an art workshop at the Wellcome to introduce people to the wonderful art in the Adamson Collection. All these opportunities and challenges help me widen my skills as an artist. My self-esteem has grown. I now have the confidence to apply for other research residencies elsewhere. Thanks to the Bethlem Gallery, the Wellcome and the Adamson Collection for the wonderful opportunity.’

Find out more about the Adamson Collection in this short film