September 27, 2019

Inside the art studio at Kerrville State Hospital, supplies fill up decorated cabinets, ambitious projects rest on tables and the sound of ukuleles drifts through the most colorful place on campus.

"This studio promotes collaboration and empowerment," said Art Therapist Jaimie Peterson. "I have an amazing team to work with including the rehab department, maintenance and our music therapist who sometimes uses the studio to teach a class. We all work together to provide the best for our patients."

Peterson knew in high school that she wanted to help people process their past and improve their present through art. After getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the Kansas City Art Institute, she received her master's in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Inside the art studio at Kerrville State Hospital.

Peterson provides individual art therapy sessions, but residents mostly come by as they please during open studio hours. With supplies purchased from the hospital's Patient Benefit Fund, residents can take digital photos, paint with acrylic or watercolor, sew, papier-mache and hand-build clay pieces to be fired in the kiln.

Peterson also leads classes covering different mediums each week and hosts a Wednesday sewing circle to encourage people to sit and chat.

"Mentorship is also important in the studio," she said. "People share tips and look at each other's work for inspiration. It happens very naturally. And if someone is particularly well-versed in a medium or style, I'll ask them to lead a workshop."

Leading a workshop or participating in a class can be transformative for residents. Learning new skills and discovering dormant capabilities gives many residents a major confidence boost and reduces anxiety.

"Someone might come in and just look through a magazine and watch others work on projects for a while," Peterson said. "Then they'll become an active participant and challenge their idea of themselves. People will say, 'I didn't know I was an artist and a teacher.'"

Artists can sell their wares to fellow residents and staff in the gift shop next to the studio. They can also show their artwork to the community by entering juried exhibitions through the Peterson Regional Medical Center in Kerrville and Mental Health Awareness Week in San Antonio.

Art Therapist Jaimie Peterson stands next to busts of Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo made by a talented papier-mache artist and resident at Kerrville State Hospital.

Access to art is important for residents during their stay, but once they're released, it can be hard to continue creating because of affordability and accessibility. To help, Peterson started an artist scholarship.

When residents know they'll be discharged soon, they fill out an application and complete an interview with Peterson about how working in the studio has helped them. So far, four scholarships have been awarded in the form of supplies or gift cards from the Kerrville Volunteer Services Council.

"I want the progress they make here to keep going," said Peterson. "I've had the honor of seeing so many artists blossom."

Art therapy integrates mental health enrichment with the creative process to form a unique therapeutic process. Patients are encouraged to express themselves in order to grow cognitively and emotionally.