Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jill Krementz covers Edward Deeds at Hirschl & Adler

Edward Deeds, artist and inmate of State Lunatic Asylum No. 3, seated on the right and enjoying a visit on the hospital grounds with his younger brother, Clay, ten years his junior. The photograph was taken in 1944.

The asylum in Nevada, Missouri was the largest of some seventy Kirkbride facilities throughout the United States. Designed for the humane treatment of patients, the central building with its long projecting wings guaranteed that every room would have abundant light. The sprawling grounds, encompassing more than 500 acres, included parks and even working farms.

The small town of Nevada had been largely decimated during the Civil War by soldiers rampaging through the area. That's why there was room to built such a spacious facility.

Nevada, by the way, is pronounced so that the middle syllable rhymes with "hey."
Talisman of the Ward
The Album of Drawings by Edward Deeds
Hirschl & Adler Modern (The Crown Building)
Gallery Hours
Tuesday through Friday: 9:30-5:15
Saturday: 9:30-4:45
Closed Sunday and Monday
January 10-February 9, 2013

Edward Deeds
(1908-1987) was born in Panama where his father was serving military duty as paymaster aboard the USS Marblehead. In 1912, the Deedses returned to the family homestead in McCracken, Missouri, where they settled as farmers.

Edward Deeds when he was 8 years old.
Harris Diamant who purchased the album in 2007 of Edward Deeds drawings.
Edward, the eldest of five siblings, had three sisters (Helen, Dorothy and Josephine) and a brother (Clay). He was a well-meaning but troubled youth who was increasingly clashing with his disciplinarian father.  Initially relegated to a second house on the family property, the teenager became increasingly violent. 

In 1936, after an attempted suicide, Edward Deeds was committed to State Hospital No. 3, (the Marshall school began in 1933).   Diagnosed with dementia praecox and schizophrenia, Deeds would live there involuntarily for the next 37 years until being released to a nursing home.

State Hospital, No. 3, was an enormous palace-like structure designed under the Kirkbride plan, the predominant design theory behind mental institutions built in the 19th century. Psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride, renowned for his practice termed “Moral Treatment” promoted the design of grand utopian sanctuaries. The humane physician believed that the best way to rehabilitate patients was by surrounding them with beauty, spaciousness, and outlets for productivity.

Thus it was that Edward Deeds during his long tenure at the hospital began drawing (Deeds was posthumously dubbed The Electric Pencil by Harris Diamant), executing 280 numbered drawings in ink, pencil and crayon.  The drawings were done on both sides of 140 ledger pages, each bearing the name of the hospital.  They were subsequently numbered and sewn into a handmade fabric and leather album. 

Edward gave the album to his mother who in turn gave it to her youngest son Clay who would later, when moving, accidently gave it to the movers who would discard it as “useless.” Luckily, the portfolio was recovered from a trash bin by a 14-year-old boy named Reid Henderson.  Henderson held on to it for 36 years — until he sold it in 2006 on E-bay to a bookseller who quickly resold it. That purchaser, feeling buyer's remorse, subsequently sold the portfolio to a Manhattan collector, Harris Diamant. 

And that is how it has come to pass that a selection of 30 (or 60 if you count both sides) of these whimsical drawings are now installed at the Hirschl & Adler Galleries in an exhibition put together by Associate Director, Thomas Parker

At last, the voice of Edward Deeds can be heard, his artwork seen, and his life remembered.
Tom Parker, Associate Director of Hirschl & Adler, who has mounted this superb exhibition on the work of Edward Deeds.

He is demonstrating how Edward Deeds most probably held his notebook of drawings which had a palliative quality for the artist.

Parker attended CUNY Graduate School for 11 years but gave up his doctorate to wok full time at the Gallery. "I'm one of those ABD's (All but Dissertation)." Mr. Parker may not have a PHD but his DNA is 100%: Tom's father, Harry S. Parker began his career with Thomas Hoving at the Met, moved on to head Dallas then San Francisco.

"I grew up being dragged, in tears, to every museum," he told me.
Deeds's drawings were discovered in this remarkable hand-sewn album. Its crude binding, constructed with the materials of a Spalding baseball box and a cigar box top, features drawings of an eagle, dog, and deer that have faded over time. The obvious signs of wear suggests Deeds carried the album with him constantly. In fact, a dark imprint from his thumb is clearly visible on the front cover.

Due to worsening arthritis Deeds stopped drawing by the early to mid-1960s and presented the album to his mother. She in turn gave it to Edward's brother, Clay, for safekeeping. In the process of relocating his family in 1969, Clay mistakenly gave the album to two movers to whom he had offered the contents of his attic in partial payment for their service. They would later discard it on the street, deeming it worthless.

It is impossible to know how many passed by a curbside junk heap without noticing this book amid the debris. It took an uncommonly sensitive fourteen-year-old boy named Reid Henderson to pause and appreciate the small, hand-sewn album of 283 richly imagined and crisply executed drawings that deserved a far, far better fate. In plucking the book from the rejected mound, Reid not only saved an American treasure from certain destruction; he unknowingly rescued from oblivion the memory of its equally marginalized creator, Edward Deeds.
The inside covers of the album holding Deeds' drawings.
A selection of framed drawings (priced at $16K each) from Edward Deeds' album prior to installation. As you can see, each drawing is double-sided.
Visual sources for each drawing have proven mostly elusive. Some likely stem from National Geographic magazines sent to Deeds by his family, or from books he had access to in the hospital's library.

Deeds' mother bought him colored pencils at Kresge's five-and-dime, and someone at the hospital kept him supplied with tablets of outdated ledger paper.
"I. Guine. Too." is on the verso of The elephant drawing.

You can see the small holes on the left of the paper perforated by a needle when the artist wanted to bind his collection of drawings into a leather-bound book.
Tom Parker is ready to greet guests in the Gallery. With him, Katherine Cissel, 25, and Genevieve Hulley, 24, who both work at H&A and have been exceedingly helpful to me.
Harris Diamant and his wife, Neville Bean.

After Mr. Diamant purchased the album he hired a private investigator to track down the artist.

It took five years and multiple articles in a Springfield, Missouri, newspaper to capture the attention of the artist's nieces, who contacted Diamant saying "That's our Uncle Edward." The nieces recognized not only the hand, but individual drawings, and recalled visiting their Uncle Edward at the hospital in Nevada and watching him sketch.

From these relatives, and from newly-released medical records, a portrayal of this elusive artist has emerged.
A display case in the exhibition. On the left: A photograph of Edward Deeds with his brother Clay on the hospital grounds in 1944.

The postcard, upper right, was found by Harris Diamant and shows that inmates often used these cards to correspond with friends and/or relatives.

The postcard, bottom right, depicts the entrance of the asylum gate, topped with a statuette of an eagle.
The card most likely reveals the source of inspiration for many of the drawings in Deeds's album featuring an eagle with its wings outstretched and carrying a banner in its claws.

Medical records indicate that Edward was committed to this mental hospital in 1936, following an initial stint at the State School for the Feeble Minded at Marshall, Missouri.

Deeds would remain at Asylum 3 for 37 years before being moved in January 1973 to the Christian County Rest Home, a nursing home in Ozark now called Ozark Riverview Manor. He lived there until 1987, when he died of a heart attack at age 79, having outlived four of his siblings (and both parents).

The remains of Edward Deeds were interred in the family plot in Ozark Cemetery.

State Hospital No. 3, later renamed the Nevada Habilitation Center, was torn down in 1999.
The eagle carrying the banner in its claws is a patriotic motif seen repeatedly in Deeds's work. The first drawing in the album has a similar rendering of an eagle, which is thought to have been copied from an eagle statuette on the entrance of the gate of the hospital.
Deeds's drawings, using mostly crayon and pencil, are delicately executed.

They are innocent, often fanciful, and notably devoid of suffering, violence, or the anger one might associate with an artist presumably under psychological or emotional stress.

One glaring exception is the unmistakable recurrence of the initials "ECT," a probable acronym and thinly veiled reference to the controversial shock treatment known as electroconvulsive therapy.

"Ectlectrc" is written boldly across the top with "pencil" at an angle to the right, just below a miniature rendering of the writing utensil. "ECT" is repeated twice in the scrambled word.

This seemingly deliberate misspelling might be interpreted as a thinly veiled cry for help -- a purposefully coded sign of the artist's acute distress.
"E C T"/ Still Life [95/96]
Accompanying this portrait of a young man, the letters "ECT" are written prominently below what at first appears to be a cigar. It has been suggested this object plays a dual role as the bite stick used during electroconvulsive therapy to keep the patients from biting their tongues or cracking a tooth.

Deeds was a resident of the state hospital for several years before ECT was introduced there in the 1940s. During the initial years of its use, ECT was "unmodified," or practiced without anesthesia or any other medication to prevent complications.

There were serious side effects associated with electroconvulsive therapy that made its overuse all the more troubling. ECT would frequently result in injuries such as broken bones, skin burns, jaw dislocations, and tooth damage, and could lead to memory loss.
One of Deeds's most compelling drawings is the bust of a seated figure wearing a tall stovepipe hat. It is an attribute normally associated in Deeds's world with the circus ringmaster, among the artist's most complex metaphors. The ringmaster occupied a revered place in Deeds's book and in American culture as an admired, even heroicized, pillar of strength. But in this instance Deeds may be offering us an alternative view: the ringmaster as cruel tyrant.

This doctor has the menacing expression and shifty eyes Deeds usually reserved for his politicians and others he didn't trust. The words, "Why Doctor," add a startling dimension to this character. Perhaps it is a harmless nickname for a staff psychiatrist who perpetually asked "why?" of his patients. Or, more profoundly, Deeds is offering yet another disturbing reference to his harsh treatment at the hands of others, particularly in regard to ECT. With two simple words Deeds seems to confirm his own victimized status, while exposing the plight of all mentally ill people.
Shelley Farmer is a Director at Hirschl & Adler. She is checking out the verso side of one of the framed drawings.

This drawing features a landscape delicately drawn within a circle. Ms. Farmer is pointing to the accompanying title, "United States," composed inside an elaborate banner.

Look carefully. The right side of the banner suggests a needle and syringe.
Detail of what might well be a needle and syringe.
Deeds was raised on his family's farm in Ozark, Missouri, and the present house likely harkens back to the homestead of his youth. Though his father was a strict, even abusive, disciplinarian and life on the farm was often tumultuous for Edward, this sunny rendering seems cheerful and bares no scars from that period.
This image appears to depict a magician performing a card trick with a raccoon tethered nearby, a possible live prop for his magic routine.

Much of the artist's source material came from his immediate surroundings, which would have included the colorful performers and other notables who periodically visited Nevada and its impressive hospital to educate and entertain its patients and staff.

Among them were circus acts, Western shows, teachers, and politicians; and, presumably, magicians. All were immortalized by Edward Deeds's pencil.
Deeds fashioned frames around the majority of his portraits, mimicking cartes de visite or paintings and photographs he may have seen on the walls of the hospital.

In "CHARTER.OAK," one of his more abstract portraits, window shutters are utilized as the framing elements. The overlarge, disembodied head of a woman confronts the viewer through an open window, resting her chin on her crossed arms.

Curiously, her arms encircle the shutters, imbuing them with a dual purpose: they vaguely resemble bars, adding a sense of imprisonment and further demarcating the "outside" from the "in."
The Great West Show

As in small towns across America, some of the highlights of living in Nevada, Missouri were the annual visits of circuses and other traveling vaudeville-type spectacles. When the circus was in town it was customary to make a pass by the mental hospital.

The procession of performers and animals following the institution's long, curving driveway would have made a dramatic sight, one that Deeds captured multiple times with distinctive snaking compositions.

Peopled with as many as fifty figures and an equal number of animals, common and exotic, these are among the artist's most ambitious efforts.
It was common for circuses to incorporate romantic Wild West themes as popularized by the Buffalo Bill shows of a previous era.

The present drawing features a charming mixture of cowboys, Indians, and their horses with an elephant, camels, and a pipe organ sprinkled among them. Even in this miniaturized scale, Deeds proves his commitment to capturing the extraordinary diversity of the scene in remarkable detail.
At first glance, Deeds's drawings appear strangely cryptic and unintelligible. But, as we learn more about the artist's background and his artistic tendencies, many can begin to be deciphered. For instance, Deeds often employed Rebus puzzles, wordplay and pictograms to imbue his images with meanings, both weighty and whimsical.

The annotation in the present work is taken from a popular song at the turn of the century, "Where Did You Get That Hat?"

Here, Deeds finishes the lyric by substituting the last word with a picture of a hat. The song's next line repeats but ends with "tile" which Deeds may have misremembered as "tie," a word he represents with a carefully drawn bow. The monkey's looping tail may play the role of question mark punctuating each sentence.
Other rebus-type symbols appear but it's hard to know their relevance: an enigmatic beetle or an eye superimposed over a leaf that could be interpreted as "I leave." Does that in turn lend more significance to the vague runaway escapism of "Fan away" above the rabbit?

Rebus tricks appear multiple times throughout the album, probably much more than we currently recognize. For instance many of the portraits may be encoded with rebus pictograms reminiscent of medieval heraldry and ripe for deciphering.
Speaking of artists who hide things in their work: Larry Kagen, on left, with his close friend Harris Diamant, is a sculptor who exhibits at OK Harris. One of his sculptures is for sale at Hirschl & Adler.
This is what you see when you view Kagan's sculpture hanging on the wall, in normal light.
And THIS is what you see when you add a spotlight.

Talk about hidden messages!
Many drawings depict adorable out-of-scale animals in scenic situations. Deeds's menagerie represents the artist at his most charming, whimsical and symbolic. "LOOK OUT"/ Landscape with Trees
Detail from "LOOK OUT"/ Landscape with Trees.
Psychologists have noted there is a degree of proportional and linear exactitude across all the subjects that reflects the obsessive precision and rigidity that today is often associated with an autistic mind.
Lines are unerringly straight and bricks numbering in the thousands perfectly measured.
This drawing is one of many that exhibits Deeds's endearing sense of humor, as well as his apparent interest in popular culture. The subject in "THOES. GINGR. SNAPS" may have derived from an advertisement or a package of ginger snap cookies.

Unlike the majority of Deeds's portraits, which face the viewer straight-on, the subject here leans forward out of the frame as if jumping off the page.
Jena Gilbert, 18, is a freshman at Swarthmore College where she is about to take a course in painting taught by Randall Exon.

You can see Mr. Exon's paintings hanging in the adjacent gallery.
Max Mason is a realist artist known for his baseball paintings. Mr. Mason, like Ms. Gilbert, had come to see his friend Mr. Exon's show (traveling by train from his hometown of Philadelphia) and had experienced the serendipitous pleasure of being able to wander into the Deeds exhibit.

Mason will have an exhibition of his work opening on March 1st at the Gross McCleaf Gallery on Rittenhouse Square where he has shown for many years.
Chelsea Larson and Lisa Crescenzo both work at H&A. Chelsea is an assistant with the Department of European Painting and Sculpture; Ms. Crescenzo is an assistant in the Decorative Arts Department.

H&A used to be uptown in a huge townhouse and now their wide-ranging inventory is sprawled out over the fourth floor of The Crown Building.

Inventory includes pieces by renowned American cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe, sculptures by Elizabeth Turk, and paintings from the estate of Fairfeld Porter. There is a current exhibition of landscapes by Randall Exon.

Be sure to visit H&A's booth at the upcoming Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory (January 25-February 3, 2013). An early bird can snatch up a Paris porcelain vase with Thomas Jefferson's portrait, c. 1828-30.
Tom Parker with Janay Wong, who works at the David Findlay Gallery, also on Fifth Avenue just down the block from H&A. Tom and Janay were students together at CUNY Grad Center. Ms. Wong is one of the world's experts on Everett Shinn, an early Ashcan painter.
It is the portraits, with their arresting gaze, odd vintage costumes and elaborate accoutrements, that are perhaps his most ambitious, inspired, and unforgettable images.
They are also Deeds's most distinctive contribution to the Outsider canon: each one featuring the same mesmerizing, enlarged pupils, gray-shaded or "smutty" noses, thin, pursed mouths, and exaggerated chins.

If that formulaic style indicates how Deeds liked to draw faces, it might also reflect how Deeds saw faces: all attention on the eyes, the proverbial "windows of the soul;" then the nose, a three-dimensional artistic challenge; then the mouth, and the empty words it spews, far lower on the artist's hierarchy.

What uniqueness the artist could not, or would not, give to his sitters' faces, is instead imparted through their trappings and accoutrements. Attention is lavished on feathered hats, braided hair, trim costumes with elaborate patterning, ribbons and bows, and floral bouquets.
In many of his works, Deeds included references to popular culture. Here, the title "Cat. Rag" pertains to ragtime music. Deeds may have been referring to the country rag song of the same name, originally recorded in 1929 by Dupree's Rome Boys. However, there are numerous ragtime composers (like Bill Krenz, nicknamed "Mud Cat Rag") and songs (including "The Black Cat Rag") the title could be referencing.

Deeds's family provided him with copies of National Geographic magazines, from which he could have seen and replicated images of exotic animals. He also had access to books through the library at the hospital, the door of which Deeds drew in no. 78.
Dunham Townend, an associate at H&A who shares an office with Mr. Parker. Neville Bean and Robert Vandeweghe.

Ms. Bean has been the designer behind the Electric Pencil project which includes the privately printed book: The Drawings of The Electric Pencil.

Mr. Vandeweghe is a film-maker who is co-producing, with Ms. Bean and her husband, Harris Diamant, a documentary about Edward Deeds.
The front cover of the book containing reproductions of all 280 of Deeds drawings sequentially as they appeared in the original album. Also included are three single-sided drawings which appeared at the end of the collection.

This volume is available online or at Hirschl & Adler for $60.

If you visit the gallery you should ask to look at the Display Copy.
A two-page layout from the book.
Lyle Rexer has written an extensive essay about the work of Edward Deeds.

Mr. Rexer is a critic, curator, and the author of several books on art and photography, including "How to Look at Outsider Art" and several others that focus on Outsider Art and artists. He teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Inside front cover of the magnificent book.
A pleased director at the end of a long day, looking forward to jumping on a subway to Brooklyn where he lives with his wife, Elisabeth Parker (Head of Oriental rugs and carpets at Christie's) and his two children, Clarissa, age 7, and Nate, who is 5.

Mr. Parker had been at the Gallery since 9:30 that morning, overlooking the final installation of what is my favorite exhibition of the new year.

As I was leaving Tom mentioned that the recent blog on Huffington Post about Deeds (which initially alerted me to the show) had received over 100 comments, one of which said "Edward Deeds escaped one drawing at a time."

That insightful comment pretty much sums it up if you ask me.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved. Contact Jill Krementz here.