Set among a cluster of bungalow-style cottages transformed into shops in the South Lake Street neighborhood of Pasadena is a small gallery dedicated equally to the visual and literary arts.
Inside, creativity and life exude in an atmosphere that is at once informal and professional. In every room, the walls are adorned with paintings, prints, textile arts, ceramics, photographs and sculptures, all framed by built-in bookshelves bursting with contemporary poetry books.
In a back room off to the right, set apart by glass-paneled doors, is owner Lisa Krueger's office, also hung with a colorful array of works. But it's not a typical gallery office; it's a therapy office. Krueger is a clinical psychologist with a lifelong passion for poetry and art and a vision for blending her vocation and avocation.
"I had this idea of creating a gallery to honor poetry, art and literature for a long time," says Krueger, 45, a Pasadena resident and the mother of two teenage boys and a 9-year-old daughter. "Both of my parents were avid readers and writers, and my mother was a docent at LACMA throughout my childhood. She is also an art consultant, so I grew up going to artists' studios and galleries."
Krueger, who writes poetry and has had a psychology practice since 1991, says she has always incorporated writing and the arts into the work she does with her clients. "Last summer," she says, "when I moved my office from a bungalow on Marengo, I decided to try to create this space. It was the right time in my life for this kind of adventure."
With a dazzling smile that at once seems to light up and soften the room, Krueger describes her therapy approach as, in part, "very interactive and direct." She adds that she believes "writing poetry, journal writing, making art and talking about art and poetry can help people in therapy better understand their 'cognitive lives,' which can have a very positive effect on their general well-being." To this end, Krueger conducts weekly workshops on journal writing and creative writing.
Deena Metzger, an L.A.-based poet and author of a well-received book on writing, supports Krueger's efforts. "Journal writing allows people to come to know their own story, just as poetry sees through life's illusions, and when this occurs, healing happens," says Metzger, who has read from her work in the Krueger Gallery reading series.
Krueger, who has published two volumes of poetry, keeps up with a growing body of scholarship that supports the benefits of journal writing.
"I'm very research-oriented," she explains, "and what springs to mind is Dr. James W. Pennebaker's work at the University of Texas a few years ago on journal writing that is now being replicated in many places. It shows a strong correlation between journal writing and a deep decrease in the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as in physical ailments such as diabetes and arthritis. This is this whole new and exciting area in psychology."
Though the American Psychological Assn. takes no official stand on writing therapy as a healing tool, an article published in this month's Monitor on Psychology, the group's magazine, discusses the practice. Merely venting feelings or reliving upsetting events in writing is not the purpose, several psychologists say. But it can be useful if patients focus on the meaning they derive from the writing.
Bay Area poet Brenda Hillman, whose recently published experimental book, "Cascadia," explores the link between the Earth's geologic processes and the language of the human spirit, believes the word "redemptive" rather than "healing" better describes art and poetry's promise and essential quality.
"I don't hesitate to recommend that people read difficult poetry in times of distress because easy truths don't feed people ultimately, whereas difficult paradoxes, in which nothing is resolved but the world is seen for its horror and beauty, can make deep sense and stave off despair," Hillman said in an e-mail. "We humans don't really know why art is transformative in this way, just as we don't understand the nature of suffering itself, but we do recognize that some help for suffering might come from love and imagination."
The Krueger Gallery offers poetry readings on the first Friday of the month, where nationally acclaimed poets such as Dana Gioia, Ron Koertge, Charles Harper Webb and Metzger have appeared.
Along with her assistant, visual artist Karen Kice, Krueger creates fine letterpress broadsides of poets' works, which can be purchased at the readings. Broadsides by a range of other poets adorn the gallery's walls, mixing nicely with other works of art.
There's a poet's corner, with signed books, printed poems and a few handwritten ones. Krueger also has set aside an area for local poets and another for, as she says, "all poets who have put together chapbooks."
"Karen and I have been making these little fiber art gift bags," Krueger says, "and when people buy jewelry, scarves or ceramics, I'm putting a printed poem in each bag so they walk out with a poem."
The poetry series at the Krueger Gallery, at 826 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, continues with Carol Muske-Dukes and Chris Abani reading Friday, Eloise Klein Healy on July 5, and an open reading on Aug. 2.