There are quite a few items in the Willard collection at the New York State Museum that are not part of my suitcases documentation. These “institutional” pieces were too numerous to photograph, but this embroidered dress just had to be documented. The work was done by a patient who is not identified, but I am in touch with some folks who worked at Willard who might know who created this.
This will be a photo heavy post with less text than in my usual posts, but the details in the dress are amazing and I wanted to share as many as I could.
It wasn’t just the amazing designs; the precision of the embroidery knocked us out.
There were a good number of cats on the dress.
This one seems to be hovering over a plant.
Not sure what is going oh above, but the orange is such a beautiful color.
This looks to me like a cat but what is it doing? Any thoughts?
I love how this person’s hair is rendered.
The orange flower in her hair is lovely.
These little flowers are so delicate.
The watch and ring on this figure are such a nice touch.
Thanks so much to Peg Ross for helping me set the dress up in order to photograph it. I am terrible at stuff like this, and as usual, she really made it happen. And if I remember correctly, Connie Houde from the museum was also there to assist.
I hope to post the back of the dress (I want to keep calling it a shift; is that correct?) sometime soon. I leave Atlanta later today but will head out to the Botanical Garden before my flight. Thanks for following.
I had a great meeting at the Edith B. Ford Library in Ovid, NY to talk about the possibility of working on an oral history project with former Willard employees. Peter Carroll and I drove up from Ithaca this morning and met with Shannon O’Connor and Monica Kelly who both are doing amazing things at the library. Monica is building an archive of Willard materials, and if anyone who reads this has any records or photographs related to the asylum, you should really contact her.
Afterwards Pete and I drove to the Holy Cross Cemetery on Gilbert Road.
Recently, a local group raised funds and erected a monument to Willard folks who died at the institution and are buried at Holy Cross. I am not exactly sure what the problem is, but some people have objected to it, and so the monument has been covered up since just after it was unveiled. The issue of naming former patients and staff continues to come up, and is still a problem on many levels. I’ll be eager to find out what really happened here.
After leaving Holy Cross, we drove over to the Willard Cemetery which is down the road and across the street from the asylum. This is such an indescribably moving place for me. It was a really beautiful late Winter day and the idea that 5,776 former patients are buried here in unmarked graves always touches me deeply.
The site is very well looked after, and the area around some of the few remaining numbered cast iron markers has recently been cleared of brush.
And it is always nice to see the monument to Lawrence Mocha, who as a patient, dug by hand over 1500 of the graves.
I found out today that I have been invited to Waco, Texas to be the keynote speaker at the annual NAMI Waco dinner and gala. The event is the evening of Thursday, 18th May and if you live anywhere nearby, I would love to meet you.
I am especially taken by the labels that we find in the suitcases. These small bits of paper and string give us quite a bit of information about the patient as they were brought to Willard. In this case, W (we only have an initial) S (not allowed to use her surname) came to the institution on 16 November 1938. This is a rare case where the label is ripped, but even so, I have had to obscure part of her name.
I am aware that there is an active debate about this, but I come down firmly on the side that would have me able to include the patient’s full names with their possessions. The reason I am forbidden from naming patients has to do with specific New York State law about the privacy of people who were wards of the state. This law supersedes even the Federal HIIPA regulations, which state that 50 years after death, records are available to the public. In fact, many other states use full names in talking about former patients at asylums and psychiatric centers. I won’t go into all the reasons why I feel it is respectful to name the suitcase owners, as I am not so good at putting this kind of argument in writing. But someone contacted me last week who is really good at it.
Here is a link to a post on her site. I am grateful for all the nice things she said about me, but I am especially pleased that she was able to put into words something that I think about often; which is how to show respect to people who at one time in their lives were patients at Willard. So Nelly, thank you so much for your openness about your own situation and the clarity with which you expressed your feelings. I really appreciate it.