Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Sun Palace: Hyperopera Tribute to Cragmor TB Sanatorium

Here begins some blogging about the giant work in progress celebrating the peculiar history of a tuberculosis sanatorium in Colorado Springs about 1905-1940ish. It was where the 1% went to chase the cure or die in the process. My great, great Uncle Russell Cheney was there and the building eventually became the campus of UCCS where my dad taught English for 35 years.

The main cures were sunbathing (heliotherapy, ironically the only thing they happened to get right since vitamin D does help the immune system), fresh air, and food (28 raw egg yolks a day and gallons of milk). Drug treatments were poppers (nitrite of amyl), heroin, codeine, tobacco, creosote, and chalk. Confined to bed or deck chairs for months or years they had plenty of time to look at the view of Pikes Peak, read, paint, take photographs, write poetry, compose, or just go 'cousining' on the roof if they felt equal to it. Thus, long before 'Art Therapy' became a term in the 1940s, the rich consumptives of Cragmor were producing artworks. The patients who recovered often stayed in the town, endowed institutions, and led to its dramatic rise in population. This is the story of how a germ built a city.

The Sun Palace will be a multi-media performance event with UCCS students, faculty, and community members in November 2012. It will also have a life as a standalone experimental video. As I develop the various components of the work I will post samples.

Here are some remixes of artwork and media from those times, all related to TB patients — "Lungers" — and their inner (and outer) lives; facing uncertain medical outcomes (50:50 at best).

You will see my montaged reworkings of pieces that relate to Russell Cheney (painter), Laura Gilpin (photographer), Dorothy Smoller (dancer with Anna Pavlova, model), Vincent Youmans (composer), Henry Varnum Poor (painter), and Ruth Draper (monologuist). There will eventually be parallel treatments in audio and video form...

1 comment:

George Abbott White said...

Very interesting, great idea; a large visual look at an American "Magic Mountain." What is the status of the project?

One East Coast version - taking among others, interestingly, medical students from Atlantic training programs - was at Saranac (sp) in upstate New York. A fair amount of literature was produced by the patients, including medical monographs. Not sure about books but will check with a doctor colleague who knew it before WW2.

Cheney and other East Coast friends were there, notably the poet Phelps Putnam, and I, think, the influential New Mexico senator (Long Island transplant) Bronson Cutting.

George Abbott White, 16 August 2015