Documentary Film ... THE MYSTERY OF THE ELECTRIC PENCIL
The Mystery Of The Electric Pencil is a richly complex story centered around the discovery of a unique artifact; a hand made book, containing 283 drawings on ledger sheets from State Lunatic Asylum No. 3, in Nevada MO.
We follow the amazing story of the discovery of this collection -- serendipitously rescued twice! ... and New York artist Harris Diamant's efforts to discover the identity of the artist. We also uncover a deeply textured, nearly forgotten story about the compassionate, utopian beginnings of our American Mental healthcare system.
Originally, nothing beside it’s beauty and uniqueness was known about this artwork. Researching the clues in the drawings brought up many questions: Who was the artist? What was the artist trying to convey? When were the drawings created? What was the connection with State Lunatic Asylum No. 3?
Our documentary project grew out of a fascination with what was being uncovered as some of these questions began to be answered. The personal story of the artist opens a door to several compelling themes we explore. Our approach is to open a dialog with experts in the fields of psychology, linguistics and art who can offer their insights and ideas about art and language and the human need to create.
We look at the impact mental illness and the stigma of commitment has on families and society. Many of us are touched personally somewhere in our own lives with mental healthcare issues. The artist's book tells his own unique story... What is he trying to say? His is a rare voice from deep within the system.
THE DISCOVERY ...
Our story opens with a mystery and a fortuitous discovery. In 1970, a fourteen-year-old boy rescued the album of drawings in a hand made cover from a trash heap in Springfield, Missouri. Thirty-six years later, artist Harris Diamant discovered the album on E-Bay.
WHO WAS THE ELECTRIC PENCIL? ...
It's a tale of mystery and detective work that uncovered the artist’s identity as James Edward Deeds Jr., who grew up on a farm in Ozark, Missouri. We will paint a picture of the harsh life of the rural 1920’s and 30’s when he was coming up -- We tell his tragic story. At age 25, after a stormy adolescence and chronic abuse at the hands of his father, Edward was committed for LIFE. He attempted suicide when he found out he was to be committed, which assured his incarceration.
UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY ...
This is an unfolding mystery we continue to research. New information was recently uncovered including a touching intake interview with Edward, in his own voice -- as taken down word by word by a court stenographer.
THE CLUES ...
The artwork is a treasure-trove of clues… a diary that tells a story in the artist's own personal symbolic language. 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. We explore the impact mental illness has on families and society... a story with great relevance for today.
THE HOSPITAL ...
When Edward was committed in 1936, State Hospital No. 3 practiced the humane philosophy of Moral Treatment as described by pioneers such as Dorothea Dix and the once influential and currently nearly forgotten Dr. Thomas Kirkbride and his ambitious Kirkbride Plan. Using Edward's years at the hospital as a launching point, we’ll explore the topics that emanate from his personal story. We reveal the fascinating history of the building of the hospital... Medical professionals explore the changing attitudes and diagnostic practices within the field and trace the arc of change in treatments then and now.
It’s a story reflecting shifting attitudes about what it means to be mentally ill in the course of the 20th century. What did Edward experience as a patient during his long years of incarceration? One of the nieces, who visited her uncle at the hospital with her parents, paints a poignant picture of the massive, intimidating hospital from a child's perspective. We have touching commentary by a former staffer, explaining the devastating changes in the hospital environment over her 40 years of employment. Vivid commentary from our local historian, Lyndon Irwin, includes wonderful anecdotes about the hospital and the surrounding community.
ART AND THE NEED TO COMMUNICATE ...
This story leads to topics about art and perception and the symbolic
language of art. We plan interviews from a wide range of perspectives - exploring the idea of alternative modes of expression and the shifting concept of "otherness." We will explore the drawings by visually traveling through the beautifully observed world Edward created in his drawings. Art experts, prominent collectors and Art scholars discuss the work and put it in historical context. Psychologists and mental health experts look at the work through a psychological and diagnostic lens... What are the narratives? What is this compelling human need to create art?
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