I started shooting the Willard Suitcases project on 17 March 2011, which is exactly four years ago today. I had no idea what I was doing, but knowing that I had access to one of the most unique collections of institutional artifacts anywhere, I figured something had to come of it. Here is a link to a post I put up the next day.
Peg and I spent the day continuing to work our way through Margaret D’s possessions.
The list above seems to be a resumé of sorts. And you can see Margaret’s will on the lower right.
A huge thank you goes out to everyone that has helped me with this work, and to those who have appreciated my efforts. All best, Jon
We have been learning quite a bit about Margaret’s life before she came to Willard. She worked at Herman M. Biggs Memorial Hospital in Ithaca as a nurse, and at some point had some sort of surgery. There were a large number of get well cards in the boxes we worked on yesterday, many of which had lovely personal notes on the inside. It was clear that she was very well liked by her friends and co-workers.
As I have mentioned before, Margaret came to Willard with almost everything she had accumulated up to that point in her life. Yesterday we came across her 1939 and 1940 1040A forms and quite a few photographs. Inside of a photo envelope labeled “Easter Greetings” was a picture of the car that I mentioned in this post.
In the same envelope was a photograph of the hospital in Ithaca where she once worked. / Peggy Ross was especially helpful yesterday, and I wanted to thank her again for all her hard work on the project. Her organizational skills are only outweighed by her cheerful spirit, which when shooting in a darkish and chilly storage facility is very much welcomed.
There has been quite a bit of attention to the project lately and with many new folks coming to this site, I wanted to remind everyone that I am continually uploading earlier shoots to the willardsuitcases.com site. Check it out if you haven’t been there lately, and thanks for following.
Margaret D arrived at Willard with almost her entire household as well as her car. Which in this case was a Dodge Brothers Coupe that she bought new in 1934. Here is what Hemmings has to say about it. An amazing automobile.
This is the first page of the notebook where she kept track of trips that she took in it. I am quite familiar with the first legs of the journey, having grown up in Western Pennsylvania. Especially the Salamanca, NY to Bradford, PA leg. And my great friend and college roommate Gail grew up in Ridgeway, where I have spent quite a bit of time.
I am just blown away when I think about the stories contained in these suitcases. Thanks for following along with me.
Yesterday we had a very productive day shooting more of Margaret D’s possessions. Every once in a while, something completely unexpected pops up. Among the many photographs in Margaret’s collection was this picture postcard. It was so unlike everything else that she had that it was a bit of a shock. There was no information on the back, but I thought I immediately knew the identity of the woman in the bathing suit. Peg wasn’t so sure. So I am opening it up for all of you to help us figure out who this is. In a few days, I will post my guess, along with more images from the shoot. As I mentioned before, Margaret came to Willard with almost an entire household. It will take us months to get through it all, but is a remarkable look into her life.
Wow, my sister Karen nailed it. Ann Miller. Look in the comments to see the other responses. Here is the original that she tracked down on the web.
Thanks Sis! And I owe Peggy a beer. My money was on Bess Myerson.
I uploaded William G’s case to the willardsuitcases.com site today. There is a lot of history here. The Fort Randolph towels give a hint as to where his military service occurred. And he must have had some connection to the Boy Scouts.
You can check out more of what he chose to bring to Willard with him here. This is one of my favorite collections.
I keep moving along with uploading cases to the site. This morning I was working on Henry S’s beautiful old leather case and was reminded that when we shot it, there was some confusion as to the contents.
At first it seemed possible that this was Henry’s collection of nuts (many of the patients were allowed to walk around the grounds at Willard). But on closer inspection we saw the small hole at the back left of the case which indicated that some small critter was using it as a cache for its nutritional needs.
I am often asked if prints of the project are for sale, and I have finally set up the system to be able to buy them. Just go to the site and click on a case, then click the image, then click the blue button “Add to Cart”. There are three sizes available, all on archival matte paper, printed and signed by me. The images look great on a computer screen, but the prints are something else entirely. Similar to the Kickstarter appeals, all proceeds go directly back into the project. I would be grateful for the support.
On Tuesday, Peg and I started in on Margaret D’s cases. By all accounts she came to Willard with her entire household, which included a car. There is so much of hers in the collection that we literally did not know where or how to start. The first shot we took is of this remnant of a shipping label, and it seemed as good a place as any to begin. She came to Willard from the Mount Morris TB Hospital, but I haven’t yet seen anything with a date on it to know for sure when she arrived.
It will take us weeks to get through her things, but now that we have started, I feel excited to proceed. I will continue to post about her as we move ahead.
My son Peter sent me a link to an interesting article in Sunday’s Washington Post. It is about a woman who struggles with a lot of the same issues that many Willard patients must have experienced. Here is the link.
I have just uploaded a few more cases to the willardsuitcases.com site. Henry L’s cardboard box is one of the more interesting in the collection. This photograph was in the Exploratorium exhibit, and it is one that my friend Alex Ross printed at about 48 inches wide. It looks amazing huge.
Peg is back from her travels, and we hope to begin shooting again sometime this week. We are both eager to get back to it.
Have a great weekend, everyone.
One of my goals in the early part of this year is to work very hard at uploading the cases to willardsuitcases.com. Today I edited Thomas Y’s case. Here is a shot of one of the locks. Sometimes I find myself just opening and closing them over and over; the sound can be very evocative.
When I started this project, I truly had no idea of the way that it could touch people. On a daily basis I get email and comments from folks who stumble across the photos online. I save them all, and sometimes I am awed by how the work is perceived by people whose lives have been touched by mental illness. Today, a comment was posted by Daphne and since it was put up publicly, I hope that she won’t mind if I quote her here.
“I just saw this. oh my, I am so humbled for those who you make alive and human again. They were just like us in many ways. To be shrunk into ONE suitcase…is beyond me. I have a lifetime of mental illness in my family, and I have to say, they are just like us…all in all…as you show. Thank you.”
No, Daphne…..thank you.
This photograph is from the last shoot of 2014. LaVerne’s case held an amazing collection of postcards from Europe and some very interesting personal photographs. / Due to scheduling issues, Peg and I and won’t be able to get back to the project until later this month, but we are on the home stretch with the suitcases. I would estimate that we have photographed at least 350 of the roughly 400 cases and it feels great. The next phase (along with continuing to edit and upload to the site) will be to start talking to publishers and galleries.
Some very good news about coverage of the work. In mid December I started to see an up tic in traffic on the web, and I have been receiving lots of interest and great feedback. Just this morning abcnews.com ran a selection of the images. It is featured quite high on their main page and here is the direct link. Thanks so much to Kate at ABC News for her interest.
And a very interesting site in Brazil just ran a long article on the project. The InstitutoMoreiraSalles (IMS) runs an online magazine called ZUM and they did a great job putting the piece together. Here is the link. If any of you read Portuguese, let me know how it sounds.