Water as Cure and Transformation
an exhibition by Katie Richardson | Contemporary Art at Historic Northampton
A contemporary interpretation of the Round Hill Water Cure inspired by documents and objects from the museum's collection.
August 14 - September 6, 2015
Opening Reception: Friday, August 14, 5 to 8 pm | Northampton's Arts Night Out
Water as Cure and Transformation by artist Katie Richardson will include an homage to the four humours and their associated temperaments, and a hanging sculpture of steel and paper that considers vulnerability and intervention into the body. Also on display will be a series of small glass castings paralleling water cure diagrams, and a large-scale sculpture in steel and glass that allows water to transform the piece throughout the exhibition.
at left: Katie Richardson: Exogeny (detail)
Steel, paper, plastic tubing, wire
24” x 22” x 55”
Northampton and the Pioneer Valley have always attracted people interested in alternative health and medicine. In the mid-nineteenth century, Northampton was home to several well-known water cure facilities. Hydropathy, or water cure, was a therapeutic approach to a wide variety of ailments, from physical and nervous disorders to “broken-down constitutions” to emotional conditions. Cold water, thought to draw out illness, was taken internally and externally through such techniques as soaks, baths, plunges, and wraps. These techniques, in combination with radical lifestyle reforms including vegetarianism, exercise, and abstention from stimulants and alcohol, were touted to yield dramatic results. Patient participation and eventual autonomy were also part of the goal of this method of treatment.
Image credit: Library of Congress
The water cure became popular in the United States in the 1840s during the Popular Health Movement as an enticing alternative to the intense medical treatments of that era. Medical understanding revolved around the concept of the four humours- blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. A healthy person had an appropriate balance of these four essential fluids, and an unhealthy person’s diagnosis and treatment required noticing and correcting an imbalance. “Heroic” or “allopathic” medicine, which included bloodletting, blistering, purging, mercury and arsenic, was common at this time. The “regulars” of heroic medicine, sanctioned by the upper class, battled both traditional women healers, who were being illegitimized, and a new wave of medical professionalization through the establishment of the American Medical Association in 1842 and increasing numbers of medical colleges. The hydropathic movement emphasized economic accessibility, offering treatment at rates that were often below that of “regular” allopathic doctors.
In the 1840s, abolitionist David Ruggles moved to Florence to live at the Northampton Association of Education and Industry and established the David Ruggles Water Cure along the Mill River in Florence. After his death in 1849, Dr. Charles Munde took over his estate and patients, renaming the establishment, the Munde Water Cure. Dr. Edward E. Denniston was the first medical director of the Round Hill Water Cure in 1847 and later set up his own water-cure establishment, Springdale, on 60 acres of land, now the site of Cooley-Dickinson Hospital. Northampton's Round Hill Water Cure Hotel boasted one hundred and fifty sleeping rooms as well as attractive amenities like separate facilities for women. The Round Hill hydropathic regimen attracted notable visitors such as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Henry James. Adherents of David Ruggles' water cure treatment included William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth and John Brown's widow, Mary Ann Day Brown.
Katie Richardson creates organic sculpture that explores the body, the home and the intersections between them. Her current interests revolve around bodily difference, medicine, and technology, exploring ideas of embodiment, disease and subjectivity. Richardson has been creating as long as she can remember, but she fell in love with making art from fire about 12 years ago. In addition to her sculptural work, she operates a craft business that offers jewelry, housewares, and accessories in glass and steel and teaches glass and welding classes.
Selected medical instruments from the collection of Historic Northampton will be on display.
Left: Medicine Case with bottles, circa 1850. The nameplate is engraved L. H. Greene, MD.
Center: Medicine case with vials, circa 1850. Black leather-covered medicine case belonging to Alexander Lange, father-in-law of the donor. It holds three double tiers of glass vials with cork stoppers. It has the capacity to hold 89 vials.
Photographs by Stan Sherer