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Kathryn Snell

Post-Discharge Art Correspondence with People Recovering from Homelessness:
The Mail Art Postcard Project

Kathryn Snell, Postcard in response to client.  2003.  Watercolor on paper.  4”x6”

       Communication via the postal system continues to be a vital means of connection, despite the convenience and necessity of technology. Sending and receiving postcards or letters provides tangible evidence that contact has intentionally been made. A postcard’s worn stamp of departure or the familiarity of someone’s handwriting provide intimate connections that defy physical distance. Tracing back to Ray Johnson’s founding work in the 1960’s, mail art has become a way to establish connections via the postal system; often bringing strangers together in an uninhibited visual dialogue. Through the correspondence of mail art, differences and similarities in belief systems, culture, life experience, and politics are often shared, providing a forum for artistic expression that is accessible to most anyone.

            The Mail Art Postcard Project was inspired by the concept of connection through correspondence, and was aimed to artistically engage clients recovering from the difficulties involved with homelessness. As an intern, I developed an art therapy program at the Interfaith House, a nonprofit residential recuperative center for people recovering from homelessness. My work with clients often explored and challenged the severe isolation and lack of connection that had lead to their life on the streets. The process of art therapy fostered personal discovery as well as the relationship between Interfaith House residents and me. The Mail Art Postcard Project came about as a means to explore the potential benefits of sustaining an artistic connection with clients after their discharge from treatment. It had the additional benefit of encouraging clients to integrate art making into their everyday lives. Art supplies and blank, stamped postcards were provided to clients upon their departure from the Interfaith House. Each client chose whether or not to engage in the exchange of mail art with the art therapist.

            This thesis is an exploration of the potential benefits and difficulties involved in post-treatment artistic correspondence between former clients and their former art therapist. Diverse understandings of the therapeutic relationship during and after treatment are examined, and questions regarding therapeutic roles and boundaries are raised. The role of artistic correspondence as a means of maintaining interpersonal connections is assessed in terms of its relevance for persons recovering from homelessness.


        Kathryn Snell received her BFA in studio art from the University of Georgia. While at SAIC, Kathryn worked with residents of Misericordia, a group home for adults with developmental disabilities, and with people receiving treatment for addiction and mental illness at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital. She also established an art therapy program at the Interfaith House, a recuperative center for injured and ill people recovering from homelessness.


Thesis Advisor: Catherine Moon, Assistant Professor, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Lucille Herman, Instructor, Art Therapy





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