Edythe Salzberger, 99; Pioneer in Art Therapy

Edythe Salzberger was a student at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. She resumed painting later in life, after her husband's death.
Edythe Salzberger was a student at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. She resumed painting later in life, after her husband's death. (Family Photo)
  Enlarge Photo    
Monday, December 15, 2008

Edythe Woolf Polsby Salzberger, 99, one of the first art therapists in the Washington area, died Dec. 5 of anemia at her home in Chevy Chase.

Mrs. Salzberger was a painter in her early years who received an associate's degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1931. She studied painting at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and later with artists Robert Brackman and William Shulgold.

She developed an interest in art created by psychiatric patients and in 1950 began to study projective drawings under the direction of Fritz Wengraf in New York.

"I always struggled between painting as an end in itself and practicing art therapy," she once wrote.

Moving to Chevy Chase in 1950, she began working as an art therapist in 1957 at Hillcrest Children's Center, a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed children. The center, located on Nebraska Avenue NW on the site of what is now the National Presbyterian Church, later closed for lack of funding and was incorporated into the psychiatric services offered by the National Children's Medical Center. She also provided training to clinicians at D.C. General Hospital on the use of art therapy, and established an art therapy program at Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Israel.

Art therapy was a relatively new discipline when Mrs. Salzberger began her career, and she became one of the founders of the Washington chapter of what later became the American Art Therapy Association. She published numerous articles in professional journals and produced one of the first films demonstrating the use of art therapy. Titled "Michael," the film was designed for use in university classes.

She was born Edythe Woolf in Providence, R.I. In 1931, she married her college sweetheart, Daniel Polsby II, and lived in New Haven and Norwich, Conn., where her husband was a businessman and farmer. She worked on the family farm during World War II, when agricultural workers were hard to find. The farm produced as many as a thousand eggs daily; they were sold under contract to an Army camp on Cape Cod.

Her husband died in 1946, and she moved to Chevy Chase with her three sons. She was one of the founders of Temple Sinai in the District and was active in a number of Jewish charitable organizations.

She completed requirements for her undergraduate degree at RISD in the late 1950s.

In 1966, she married Henry X. "Hy" Salzberger, a recently retired Texas department store executive, and moved to Dallas. She helped her husband in the two organizations he founded, Dallas Taping for the Blind and a local radio station for the blind. She also lectured on art therapy at hospitals and at the University of North Texas, and supervised therapists-in-training.

When Mrs. Salzberger's husband died in 1994, she returned to Chevy Chase to be closer to family and friends. She also resumed painting.

Her son, Nelson W. Polsby, died in 2007.

Survivors include two sons, Allen I. Polsby of Bethesda and Daniel D. Polsby of Fairfax County; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

-- Joe Holley

© 2008 The Washington Post Company