Our documentary introduces the tragic yet uplifting story of an outsider artist institutionalized for LIFE at age 17.
THE MYSTERY OF THE ELECTRIC PENCIL
A feature length, broadcast quality documentary
Five years ago, New York based artist and art dealer, Harris Diamant, discovered an extraordinary hand made album containing 283 drawings done on ledger sheets from State Lunatic Asylum No. 3, in Nevada MO. The unknown artist was given the name THE ELECTRIC PENCIL, based on the title of a single drawing.
The album and drawings look like artifacts from a distant time; arresting portraits of people with startling eyes wearing 19th century clothing, Civil War soldiers, antique cars, fantastic boats and trains, country landscapes with roaming animals, and other drawings that seem fanciful and bizarre. Who was this artist? The artwork is a treasure-trove of clues… a diary that tells a story in the artist's own personal symbolic language.
Our documentary will tell the story of how this treasure was lost and then found. It's a tale of mystery and detective work that led to the discovery of the artist's family, confirmed the artist’s identity, and unearthed parts of his tragic, yet uplifting life story. Although we’ve discovered the identity of the artist, that discovery has revealed many mysteries yet to be resolved.
The ledger sheets, each imprinted with the name of the hospital, are another important clue...one that opens a door to a story of historic significance, the under-told and nearly forgotten saga of the beginnings of our mental health care system.
Our documentary project grew out of our increasing fascination with what we were uncovering. Our 18-minute documentary, The Electric Pencil introduces the story we've uncovered so far. Your support will help solve the unanswered mysteries and questions surrounding The Electric Pencil... helping us to produce a feature-length documentary for a national audience that tells the full story of the artist's troubled life and his extraordinary art.
WHAT IS OUTSIDER ART? The discovery of the Album created great excitement in the Outsider Art world. Experts and collectors consider THE ELECTRIC PENCIL album the greatest discovery in this category in the past 10 years, and favorably compare his work with recognized masters Martin Ramirez and Henry Darger. Our experts discuss what Outsider Art is and its significance in the contemporary art world. Check out our short video Outsider Art and the Drawings of The Electric Pencil
WHO WAS THE ELECTRIC PENCIL? James Edward Deeds Jr. was a Missouri artist whose work was nearly lost! In 1970, a fourteen-year-old boy rescued the album of 283 drawings from a trash heap in Springfield, Missouri. Thirty-six years later the album was discovered by artist Harris Diamant.Check out our short video, The Discovery of the Electric Pencil.
WHO WAS JAMES EDWARD DEEDS JR? At the tender age of 17, Deeds was committed for LIFE by his father after a particularly contentious adolescence. We conducted interviews with two of the artist's nieces who relate Edward’s tragic history, fill in the family’s background and offer a glimpse into the dynamics of a family struggling to cope with mental illness. The Deeds' family story is a window on the larger story of how families, and society, have dealt with mental illness throughout the 20th century.
WHAT WAS MORAL TREATMENT? When Edward was committed in 1925, State Hospital No.3 still practiced a humane philosophy called Moral Treatment, as described by pioneers such as Dorothea Dix and the nearly forgotten Dr. Thomas Kirkbride and his ambitious Kirkbride Plan.
There were nearly 100 magnificent hospitals built around the country on the Kirkbride Plan shortly after the Civil War. This was the Utopian beginning of our modern mental healthcare system. What political and social forces got them built in the first place? Where did the funds come from? What's happened to the buildings? We have connected with historians, and experts in various fields who will help shed light on these forgotten stories.
A spirit of community, empathy and idealism inspired the philosophy of Moral Treatment for the mentally ill ... the Kirkbride plan gave structure to those ideals. Today, a new spirit of community has emerged with grass roots preservation groups, working against time to rescue the last vestiges of these historic sites from the wrecking ball. As a society we are judged by how compassionately we treat our most vulnerable members... a question that is as relevant today as it was in Edward's time.
Edward’s personal story is a journey through great transitions in the treatment of the mentally ill. By the time of Edward's release in 1977, Moral Treatment had long been replaced by psychotropic drugs and electric shock treatment... Edward was subjected to both and suffered great loss as a result. Often all the patients were given Electric Convulsive Therapy or ECT en masse. Why did Deeds create these drawings? Was the world that Deeds depicted a retreat from those procedures... a haven of formal calm... remote in time and tone from his nightmare existence?
Edward ended up living at State Lunatic Asylum – later named State Hospital No #3, in Nevada Missouri for 50 years. Part of our project is to tell the story of what those 50 years in the hospital would have been like for him. We are moved to discover that when we discuss Edward' story, people frequently reveal personal family struggles with mental illness. This is a story with great emotional relevance to a wide audience. As we explore how our mental healthcare system has changed over the 20th century, Edward's body of work reaches out to us through time -- a voice calling out from inside that system.
We've come a long way, but we have a lot more to do! With your help, using Edward's life history as a starting point and these amazing drawings as a backdrop, we plan to develop these fascinating stories further. Check out our Kickstarter video to see what we've done so far and come along with us on this journey of discovery...Thank you for considering our project!
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