Very shortly after the first Willard Suitcases kickstarter went up I received an email from Jessica Helfand expressing her interest in the project. She soon invited me down to New Haven to speak to her Yale freshman seminar class, “Studies in Visual Biography”. Here is a post I did just after that first visit. I have subsequently been to her class on several other occasions and it is always very stimulating and fun.
As well as teaching at Yale, Jessica and her late husband Bill Drenttel created Design Observer, which is a fantastic website devoted to creativity and design. That description doesn’t do it justice though, as it is so much more than that. It is really worth checking out on a regular basis. In addition to the site, Design Observer recently started publishing a quarterly magazine. The second issue is just out, and they included a huge spread on the suitcases. I am just so honored to be a part of the issue, and it looks great. Here is a link to purchase it, and I would really recommend all of you interested in the project to do so. It includes many suitcase photographs that haven’t been published before. Special thanks go to Eugenia Bell, who did a great job selecting the images, and making sure it all came together. She was a joy to work with.
As we were saying goodbye after that first class at Yale, Jessica reached out, hugged me and said “We’re friends now!” It was a most touching gesture and I have rarely felt so quickly welcomed into someone’s life. She has been a massive supporter of the project who has helped me in so many ways, and I am very fortunate to be her friend.
Working my way home today, but I got to see my good friend Herman this morning on Elizabeth Street. I think he just got this new hat.
Big thanks to Judy Berde at the Roosevelt Island Historical Society for inviting me to speak about the suitcases. We had a great crowd with lots of interesting questions. And a note to any of you who are involved in organizations that might like to sponsor a talk. I am starting to travel quite a bit and really look forward to presenting the project. Next Wednesday the 17th, I be talking about some of my other work to the Schenectady Photographic Society. If you live in the Albany area, stop by.
Virginia’s case is pretty great. I can’t quite make out the date of her admittance, but it is sometime in the early 1950’s. It is interesting that these were the only two books she brought with her to Willard.
Good news about the willardsuitcases.com site. Steve Fox was able to troubleshoot the problem, and it is back up and looking good. I just added Virginia’s case, so you might want to check it out.
I am looking forward to seeing some of you in New York next week.
On Tuesday the 9th of February I will be giving a presentation about the suitcases sponsored by the Roosevelt Island Historical Society. It will take place at the New York Public Library branch, 524 Main Street on the island. The start time is 6.30 pm and I would encourage anyone coming to get there a bit early, as the branch closes at 7.45 and we will need to start on time.
There is very little on-street parking, I would encourage everyone to come by public transport. (Hey, it’s New York City!) Here is a link for travel directions. If you are coming by tram, the station is at Second Avenue and 60th Street. You will need to pay with a Metrocard ($2.75). When you arrive on the island, take red bus (free) to the second stop and walk forward about 50 yards to the library. If coming by subway, take the F train from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. Then the red bus to the first stop and walk 50 yards to the library. If you follow the project online or have been in touch directly, please come up and introduce yourself. I will be in the building by 5.00, I hope, and will have time to chat once everything is set up. Hope to see you there.
I noticed today that the willardsuitcases.com site is acting up a bit. All of the information below the photograph on the splash page seems to have disappeared. Fortunately everything else seems to be working, including access to the cases page. I have a call in to Steve Fox who did a beautiful job designing the site, and I hope we can get it cleared up soon.
Even though I am in South Carolina taking a short break, I’m still trying to get quite a bit of editing done on the suitcases project. Nora M’s cases are pretty amazing.
The above shot is a great example of how the museum conserved and catalogued each item in the collection. In the photo below you can see how Peg and I unwrapped and set up Nora’s cutlery.
In the past few days I have been able to upload several more cases to willardsuitcases.com, so please go check them out. On the main page, click on “The Cases” at the top of the page. There are quite a few shots on Nora’s page, so be sure to click “view: all” underneath the “Add To Cart” button.
Have a great week everyone and thanks for following.
On Tuesday I spoke to the annual California Hospital Association Behavioral Health Conference about the suitcases. I can’t stress enough how wonderful (and unusual) it is for an organization such as the CHA to use the project to make a connection between art, and the people who work on the front lines of mental health issues. I set up 30 mounted photographs which were on display all day, and got the chance to talk to a lot of interesting folks about the project. California seems to be at the forefront of addressing behavioral health issues, which is very encouraging. A huge shout out and thank you to Sheree Kruckenberg and her amazing staff.
Dropped the rental car off this afternoon and on the walk back to Lynne’s saw a ton of these bird(s?) of paradise. Catching the red eye home tonight.
I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few days working on Irma’s photographs in order to upload them to the willardsuitcases.com site. Included in her things were several professionally done portraits of her, as well as many indications of what her life was like before coming to Willard. If you would like to check out the collection, go to the site, then “The Cases”, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will see her name. Make sure you click on “View: ALL”, so as to see all of the photos. It is well worth having a look.
I have set up the site so that you can order prints from the project. It is a fairly simple procedure. When you click on an image in a collection, you will see an “Add to Cart +” button. Click it and from there you will have 3 sizes from which to choose. Just follow the directions about payment, and I will be notified. I’ll then make the print in my studio, sign it, and ship it off. Couldn’t be easier, and it will help the project tremendously. Thanks so much.
Peggy and I have been making great strides in shooting the cases that were returned from the Exploratorium. Last week, we started in on Madeline C, and yesterday we worked on her books and papers.
Madeline’s life was very full before coming to Willard.
She was living in the New York City area, and taking classes at both Columbia and Hunter College. You can see her Hunter ID card in the photograph above.
Somehow, she became a patient at Central Islip Psychiatric Center, and it was pretty clear that it wasn’t a great place for her. We came across many letters that she wrote to doctors outside of the institution that were never mailed. This is something that we rarely found at Willard.
Peg and I were both very moved by Madeline’s possessions. She was highly educated, completely bi-lingual in French and English (the original spelling of her name was Madeleine, so we assume she was born in France), and lived a very stimulating life before she was institutionalized.
This is just a tiny selection of her papers and books. I could easily post 50 photographs of her things; something I will get to when I upload her to the willardsuitcases.com site. Which given the sheer volume of images, might be a while.
Thanks to all of you for hanging in there with me on this. I really think that I will be done with shooting in the next few weeks, and will move to spending at least a few days a week editing and uploading. I am hoping to find some sort of artist’s retreat where I could spend a month just working on the project. Any suggestions would be welcome.
Here is another example of a complication in one’s life that could possibly lead to time spent at Willard. It has not been unusual to find evidence of language problems in the lives of people who were patients there. Obviously, there must have been other factors in Michael’s situation that led him to Willard, but we have never seen such a direct link to language issues. (Michael was born Michele B in Italy.) The pink note should be readable, but if not, here is the text. “Please give this man something for his ear as he can not talk much english [sic] to make you understand what he wants.” Very sad, and I wonder what the writer meant by “something for his ear”. My first thought upon reading this was a reference to the Babel Fish which is featured in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books.
Yesterday, we also photographed Lawrence Mocha’s suitcase. I will do a longer post about him in the next few days.
Thanks for following.
This is what is left of the handle on one side of Michael’s large trunk. Sadly, there is only a tiny remnant of the original Willard tag attached to a string, so there is no information about the date he arrived. But there is a ton of very interesting material in the collection, which I am really looking forward to photographing next Tuesday.
I will be doing a longer post with lots of photos next week. Until then, thanks for following.