The place known casually as "The Ranch" is ringed by piles of junk. Strangely attired mannequins, mysterious parts, and half-built contraptions litter the dusty landscape. To its owner, Betty Voss, what appears to be junk is but a beginning for healing creativity.
Since 1962, the artist has been one of San Bernardino (Calif.) County's leading lights to gang members, kids under court probation, child-abuse victims, and disabled children who can't figure out how to make life work. She has converted a collection of barns, bungalows, and trailers into an outdoor puppet amphitheater and studios for pottery throwing, glass blowing, puppet making, painting, and other artistic endeavors.
Voss, an energetic fifty-something, has always been a Christian in a field that avoids the mention of God and healing. Her face is creased by smile lines, and she chuckles that the Art Therapy Association of America "can't deny that there's something in art beyond their explanations of it. They still don't get as far as God, but they could see we were taking very hardcore probation kids, and they were being changed."
Voss employs art initially to establish trust and rapport, drawing out the childlike creative urge suppressed by extreme emotional trauma. "Because we are all made in the image of a Creator God," she insists, "we each have creativity within us. Following our own creative ability really leads us back to God, the original Creator-the original Artist," she says.
Artmaking is a nonthreatening, nonverbal conduit for buried emotions. Recent research is finally offering scientific support for physical strategies in art therapy. For example, there is now proof that manual activities, like handling clay or worry beads, release healing chemicals ...1
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