“After Purgatory?” presents the individual and shared experiences of six Claraty artists in today’s disability services system. Through photographic collages the artists recreated a single time or place among many, when they experienced the isolation and loneliness similar to that evoked in Burton Blatt’s and Fred Kaplan’s seminal 1966 photo essay on institutionalization, Christmas in Purgatory.
These introspective arrangements are joined by startlingly revealing portraits of the artists, an homage to Kaplan’s clandestine photographs. The portraits float, isolated from, yet bound to, their scenery, creating a collaboration that examines and describes the modern realities of disabled people. People who, despite being inarguably better off than their institutionalized ancestors, still feel the subtle but dehumanizing isolation of purgatory. View the full Christmas in Purgatory pdf
It was a little hard for me. People teased me a lot, and I don’t like teasing much. Like on the bus and stuff, the special ed. bus. People would say things like, “You don’t belong on the bus.” People would do that all the time. I think it was because of the wheelchair. People don’t understand, I tried making them understand, but they don’t understand. They don’t understand the chair, that I can’t walk, that I can’t see. They think I can see, so sometimes I let people think I can see. It’s easier.
But they didn’t allow me to be in their clique because I was in a wheelchair. They were just like, “No”. That hurt my feelings. I wanted to be homecoming queen, but I wasn’t. I think because I wasn’t in the cliques. I was on the honor roll though.
Now, after high school, now that I’m here, I feel like I belong. But sometimes on outings, I still feel like I’m left out because of the wheelchair.
We ate like the same thing every day: soup and sandwich. If you didn’t want mayonnaise on your sandwich because it’s gross, too bad. You can’t be like your own person, everyone just lives there so you just all have to do the same thing.
Sometimes I have to keep it cool, when rude people will argue. I like it much better to be somewhere when I can sit and relax. I want to be a calm person, you know. I didn’t like the way how they treated me; it would always make me cry. Once I had a class at Cabrillo, and when it finished there was a potluck. I didn’t get to go. I never got a reason. Everyone should be involved. That’s a community.
When I was a little girl, we ate together with family; my brother, mother, father, in my dad’s house. When I was a little girl, my whole family watched TV with me. We would go to the movies.
I need more friends now. It’s lonely without friends. No one understands me. Nobody likes me, and I feel lonely. I sit at home and I want to go out and have friends. I want to be with staff. They won’t let me be with who I want. It hurts my feelings, so it’s lonely.
PART TIME JOB
One time there was a fire truck and ambulance outside and I asked my boss, I said, “Louie, why is there an ambulance and a fire truck outside, did something happen?” And he just said, “Nothing.” And then, I asked one of the assistant managers, who’s more cool to me, and she said, “Oh, a lady fell in the bathroom.” It wasn’t so hard to just tell me what happened, so I could be included. When he said, “Nothing” to me, it was like he couldn’t be bothered to talk to me, or I couldn’t handle it or something. He wasn’t even doing anything, just sitting there, but couldn’t take a second to just talk to me. Let’s not talk to the disabled girl.
Or, the other employees are always on their cell phones, texting or whatever. But if I’m standing there because there’s nothing I can do, and I’m waiting for something that I can do, then he’s like, “Hey, what are you doing?” When I tell him I’m waiting for something to do, he gets mad, like he’s impatient with me. He says, “Why don’t you just clean the posters or something.” While everyone else is just sitting around doing nothing, but I have to do that kind of stuff because no one else wants to do it and they can do other stuff that I’m not allowed to do. I feel like a doormat there.
This project’s how I feel … when I have to go to meetings. I feel like it’s not working that well. I don’t feel like they want me to talk. She could talk to me more. She doesn’t talk to me that much. I don’t know what to say to her. I know she’s my helper, but she feels like a stranger. We need to have a person who understands us and talks to us. She should sit down with me, and explain things to me, so I can understand instead of rushing it. Take your time at the meetings. It makes me feel bad. She wants to get out of the meeting, so I want to get out of the meeting and go home. What’s the point?
“Consumer” examines the language that we use to describe, categorize, label, and measure people with developmental disabilities, and how a thought process rooted in that language affects people with disabilities and our relationship with them. Consumer provides a rare reflective point of view; offering the artist’s insight as to how she and her peers believe they are perceived by others.
The installation draws its inspiration from Warhol's 1962 work Campbell’s Soup Cans, one of the most recognized works of contemporary art. Warhol's installation provoked critics to question and debate the parameters of fine art, and invited viewers to reconsider what subjects were worthy of being discussed. It is fitting that this installation derives its visual design from Warhol's iconic artwork about reexamination, mass production, and a refocusing of ideas.
Consumer uses familiar imagery and common language, aspiring to combine them in such a way as to cause viewers to consider or reconsider each element - each can, each label, and their own experience with these words in a new light.
The consumer installation featured the artwork of Gabby Ledesma.
Nellie’s Last Act views California’s dark history of the institutionalization of developmentally disabled men, women and children as a backdrop to celebrate the life of one inspiring survivor. The exhibition celebrates Claraty Arts’ first public mural, which tells the story of Nell Claraty, the studio’s namesake and muse. This celebration is juxtaposed with a sobering look at a 70 year history of California’s system of institutionalization, a history that is the backdrop for much of Nell’s life story.
View the 4 page pdf
Nell Claraty’s story begins with her birth and diagnosis (Cerebral Palsy), in 1918. During the first years of Nellie’s life, her families struggled with her needs and were pressured by medical professionals and relatives to relinquish their care of Nell to a state home. At last, surrendering to their exhaustion, their lack of resources and the pressure of experts, Nell’s family entrusted the care of their nine-year-old girl to the state of California.
In 1927, Nell was placed in “The California Home for the Care and Training of the Feeble Minded”, where she would remain for the next 70 years of her life. Known for many of those years as either the Sonoma State Home or Sonoma State Hospital, this institution is still open and operating today, as the Sonoma Developmental Center.
Two staff members at Sonoma recognized Nell’s humanity and the human need for freedom that she was trying to communicate. They advocated strongly on Nellie’s behalf were instrumental in her exodus from the institution. The lighthouse and beach represent Nell’s transition to Santa Cruz, where she lived in her own home, with the care and support she needed, during the final years of her life.
LOWER RIGHT, BORDER & CENTER
The Claraty Arts Project is named in honor of Nell’s inspiring story. Our building is home to her mural. The border features leopard print and purple - signature elements of Nellie’s post-institutional personality. Her likeness is based on a photo of her taken during a trip to Hawaii, after she left Sonoma, and captures her transition from a long life in shadows and gray, to one in living color.
click to view/hide posters
The Sonoma State Home is founded as a state hospital to help educate mentally disabled children. With the rise of the eugenics movement, Sonoma eventually become a worldwide model for institutional sterilization and patient testing.
The scope of US sterilization law is expanded to include specific references to Sonoma State Home and another California institution called The Pacific Colony, allowing the institutions’ board of trustees to grant permission to sterilize inmates against their will.
F.O. Butler is appointed superintendent of Sonoma State Home. Butler believed
sterilization benefited disabled individuals and society, and himself estimated
to have performed at least 1000 sterilizations throughout his career.
In 1918 Nell Claraty is born.
The Los Angeles Times begins its “Social Eugenics” Column
which runs until 1941, promoting the social and economic
benefits of compulsory sterilization. In a 1937 Fortune
Magazine survey, 66% of people approved of forced
sterilization. During this time, eugenics is integrated into
the science curriculum of California public schools.
In 1935, Nell Claraty is eighteen years old.
By 1955, state institutions in the US house over half a million patients, the largest
of which houses over 20,000 patients. Overcrowding is rampant, with as many as
100 patients sharing a single bedroom, sleeping on floors, or in hallways.
In 1955 Nell Claraty is thirty seven.
Between 1955 and 1960, 1,100 (known) cerebral palsy patients at Sonoma State institution are involved without consent in medical studies that include having air injected into their brains before a series of x-rays, being given irradiated milk, and spinal taps. The brain of every child with cerebral palsy who dies at Sonoma State Institution is removed and studied without parental consent.
In 1960 Nell Claraty is forty two.
“Normalization” is developed in Scandinavia by Bengt Nirje, and later
developed by Wolf Wolfensberger in the US. Normalization involves the accepting
of people with disabilities and offering them the same normal conditions of life
as are offered to other citizens. This concept provides much of the foundation
for what will eventually become “Supported Living Services” in California.
In 1960 Nell Claraty is forty two.
President John F. Kennedy signs the Community
Mental Health Act, providing $150 million to establish
smaller mental health centers, and encourage
community-based care to replace institutions.
Unfortunately, many communities do not have adequate
facilities or knowledge to handle individuals released
from institutions, resulting in widespread systematic
abuse by staff and a culture of “those people”.
In 1963 Nell Claraty is forty five.
Robert Kennedy takes a tour of the Willowbrook facility in New York and is appalled
by the squalor and staff-treatment of patients, calling it a “snake pit”. Kennedy calls
for a series of improvements for the facility, which don’t happen for almost a decade.
In 1965 Nell Claraty is forty seven.
“Christmas in Purgatory,” a photographic expose on America’s institutions by Burton Blatt is
released. His essays and hidden camera photographs show the deplorable conditions in several east
coast institutions and leads to a greater public outcry, as the photos greatly resembled concentration
camp images that were being exposed at the time. Referring to the institutions, the book opens with
the line, “There is hell on earth, and in America there is a special inferno.”
In 1967, Look Magazine publishes a version of the expose in an article entitled “The Tragedy and Hope
of Retarted Children”, bringing even greater public attention to the conditions in American
insitutions. The article begins, “These children do not have to be locked up in human warehouses. Yet,
to our shame, this is where we put them—in back wards, without compassion, without even basic care”.
In 1966 Nell Claraty is forty eight.
Investigative reporters including Geraldo Rivera, expose the
filth, overcrowding, physical and sexual abuse, and inhumane
treatment of individuals at Willowbrook. Rivera’s report,
“Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace” gains national
attention and wins the Peabody Award. A class-action suit is
filed against the state of New York regarding the conditions at
Willowbrook, and a settlement is reached mandating reforms of
the site. Several years pass before the violations are corrected.
In 1972 Nell Claraty is fifty five.
By 1977, thanks largely to public outcry over the
published conditions in US institutions, the
collective population of institutions has been
reduced from over 550,000 to 160,000 patients.
In 1977 Nell Claraty is sixty.
The Halderman v. Pennhurst State lawsuit is filed against the Pennhurst
State hospital for the cruel treatment of individuals and directly results in
its closure. The closure comes 13 years after the groundbbreaking NBC
expose by Bill Baldini, “Suffer The Little Children: A Peek into the History
of Eugenics and Child Abuse by the State – Pennsylvania Penhurst: which
led Penhurst to be called, “The shame of the nation”.
In 1981 Nell Claraty is sixty four.
New York State declares it is closing Willowbrook state institution. Nine
employees from Penhurst State Hospital are indicted on charges ranging from
beating residents to arranging patients to assault and fight each other.
In 1983 Nell Claraty is sixty six.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is
passed, prohibiting the discrimination of
persons based on any disability.
In 1990 Nell Claraty is seventy three.
In 1990 Nell Claraty is seventy three.
A 57-minute documentary titled Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook is released. The film is a follow-up
that centers on three former residents of Willowbrook, focused on the after-affects of institutions and how their
lives have improved since being released. The film is a blunt plea for the humane treatment of people with
disabilities, and warns, “Remembrance is a vital key to the prevention of future abuse.”
In 1997 seven state institutions remain open in California. Five of these are still open today, including Sonoma.
In 1997 Nell Claraty is seventy nine years old, and for the first time in her life, moves into her own home. Nell lived seven happy years in Santa Cruz before passing away in 2004. After 70 years in an institution, Nell proved that it is never too late, redefining herself as the colorful, vibrant, charismatic woman whose courage and conviction inspire us today.
TBD: To Be Disabled is a linocut print by Leigh Anne Ortiz. This work offers the collective self-reflections and percieved social stigmas of people with developmental disabilities: To Be Disenfranchised, To Be Dismissed, To Be Disposable, To Be Disabled...
Face it! presents a look at the historically ignored and dismissed identity and social dynamics of people with disabilities. This collaborative installation displays 100 portraits from the studio collective, framed in a startling backdrop of statistics related to the lives of this minority group and their predecessors.
80% - of disabled men, women, & children were imprisioned in state institutions, by the 1950’s.
92% - of pregnancies in the US & Europe with a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, are terminated.
32% - of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually abused. (50% of those have been victimized 10 or more times)
83% - of women with developmental disabilities have been sexually abused. (50% of those have been victimized 10 or more times)