John Zwara: Artist and Patient

“When people got too interested in him, he went back to sleeping under bridges,” Rachel Berenson Perry, fine-arts curator at the Indiana State Museum, said of Depression-era artist John Zwara’s six month stay at Central State Hospital for the Insane in 1938. Little is known of the Hungarian immigrant who wandered the United States in the early 1900s, painting mostly landscapes and watercolors, and settled in Indianapolis in the 1930s. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Zwara preferred a life of solitude in which he could focus on his work; oftentimes, this meant living without a home on the streets of Indianapolis, according to Perry. Zwara’s work, however, was brought to the forefront in local news when the Indiana Medical History Museum (IMHM), housed in the Old Pathology Building of Central State Hospital, opened the exhibition “John Zwara, Homeless Artist” in 2005.

How does an exhibition of Zwara’s work offer a humanizing approach to the lives of Central State patients and/or mental illness? What are the implications of interpreting this work on-site, within the former grounds of Central State Hospital?

Source: "Former Central State Site Showcases Works by Depression-Era Homeless Painter Zwara." Indianapolis Star, Jul 29, 2005.