self-portrait
Category : MulvaneExhibits
Date: Tue 08/11/20 12:00AM - Thu 12/24/20 12:00AM

Robert Ault (born in 1936 in Corpus Christi, Texas, died in 2008 in Topeka, Kansas) was an influential Kansas art therapist and artist. As a child, Ault earned distinction for his aptitude in the arts, becoming a member of the South Texas Art League at the age of 14. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in painting. Ault went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from Wichita State University. During his time at Wichita State, he worked for the Institute of Logopedics, now called Heartspring, an institution created to help children with special needs, such as communication disorders, and their families. Because the institute was interested in integrating art programs into their patient care, Ault was able to work there for two years while completing his graduate studies. It was a life-changing experience for the artist. In 1961, he took a position at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, KS, ultimately becoming the director of the foundation’s Creative Arts Clinic. Ault was a founding member of the American Art Therapy Association, and became the AATA’s second president in 1971. He also established a Master of Science in Psychology with a specialty in Art Therapy at Emporia State University in 1973, which he directed until 1995. After his retirement from both the Menninger Foundation and Emporia State University, Ault dedicated his time to his studio practice. 

In 2019, Robert Ault’s wife Marilynn donated a collection of his drawings to the Mulvane Art Museum. These sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, drawings feature self-portrayals in contour and explore self-expression – whether articulating the universal struggle of aging, or the pain of losing someone that he loved. Ault’s hand-rendered compositions incorporate text, articulating his personal and professional struggles, making them indexical, distinct.

Ault’s drawings also demonstrate his interest in the work of Elizabeth Layton, or Grandma Layton (1909 – 1993), a native of Wellsville, Kansas whose famous contour drawings subverted misconceptions about mental health and aging. Layton was treated for depression throughout her life; she did not start her artistic career until her sixties. After taking a drawing course at Ottawa University, she started using drawing as a means of dealing with her depression, as well as engaging with political issues. Ault studied Layton’s work, and corresponded with her extensively; he adopted her method of creating contour drawings while looking in a mirror. Ault and Layton’s drawings are stylistically quite similar in general. His allusion to Layton is evident throughout the series of drawings in the Mulvane Collection, which illustrated his self-published book, Drawing on the Contours of the Mind. His interest in and appreciation for Layton is beautifully demonstrated throughout the text, which is dedicated to Layton and devotes an entire chapter to her work and his personal relationship with her.

We encourage visitors to spend some time exploring the text and imagery within Ault’s and Layton’s drawings. After studying the drawings, consider creating your own hand-drawn self-portrait, following along with Assistant Curator of Education Jane Hanni’s video tutorial Color Me… Color You. This video is available on the Mulvane Art Museum’s YouTube channel along with a number of other educational videos.

Get Creative

Grab your art supplies and join Mulvane Art Museum's assistant curator Jane Hanni, and create your own self-portrait.


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