Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
I’ve seen a fair amount of artwork created by state hospital patients over the years, but nothing quite like the collection of folk art attributed to the anonymous Electric Pencil. In the early years of the 20th century, the Electric Pencil was at the Nevada State Hospital where he (or she) created hundreds of pictures. For his canvas, the artist utilized unused pieces of outdated hospital ledger paper. With pencil and crayon, he would cover both sides of each sheet with people, buildings, automobiles, trains, boats, animals and landscapes. The artwork is “primitive” but remarkable for its detail, unique subtleties (note for example the people’s eyes in the portraits) and sheer volume.
Although the entire collection of 283 drawings was carefully collected and sewn into a leather album at some point, it was almost lost forever. A fourteen year old boy happened to find the album in a trash heap and rescued it from oblivion in 1970. A new book reproducing the entire collection is now available from this website: Electric Pencil Drawings.
The only disappointing thing about the collection is that it doesn’t appear to contain any renderings of the Nevada Kirkbride building. There are however several images which leave little doubt that these drawings were made at the hospital. It’s really too bad that the artist didn’t attempt to reproduce the Kirkbride on paper. I’m sure he would have created a pretty compelling likeness of the structure.
The gentleman who runs the website where I learned about all this has informed me that he may have just recently gotten in touch with one of the Electric Pencil’s relatives. I hope so. It would be good to be able to put a name and history to this body of work. Watch the website for updates on this story.