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.
Rodrigo was a reader. His collection of books was extensive and interesting.
He was also a bit of a writer. Below is a novel that he wrote that was part of his library.
It is interesting how he changed the dedication.
He must have been working with some sort of editor or teacher, as there are lots of corrections in red ink.
Some of his books were from his days at Salt Lake High School. The collected issues of the school publication “Red and Black” were among his books.
This was the only evidence of his byline that I could find.
Frustrating to have to obscure his surname.
There is so much amazing material here, and I have to keep reminding myself that I am just documenting the collection as a photographer, and not as a social historian. The temptation is to photograph everything that made his life so interesting, but I reckon I would never finish.
Peggy was especially helpful is setting up and organizing our work yesterday. Here is a shot of her cheerful presence in front of a setup for which she was largely responsible. Thanks Peg.
Peg and I started in on the returned Exploratorium cases yesterday, and it was great to get back to shooting.
Herman’s case was particularly interesting to me as most of his things related to photography. It will be somewhat difficult to read this label on a computer monitor, but it reveals quite a bit about him. He had been living in Sonyea, NY at the Craig Colony for Epileptics. Lin Stuhler’s site has a good description of Craig here. There is a note on this label stating “List of ??? [artifacts, contents?, I can’t quite read it] on reverse side of this cover”.
And here is that list. You can see Herman’s signature on the top sheet that acknowledges receipt.
There were three lenses in the case, including this lovely Bausch and Lomb Tessar.
This was the 1930s idea of a light meter.
The collection includes quite a bit of correspondence from The American School of Photography in Chicago. It seemed to be a well organized “learn at home” way of becoming a photographer. Since all of the envelopes that contained the promotional materials were addressed to Herman in Sonyea, NY, I have to assume that he was learning to be a photographer while living at the Craig Colony.
For me, Herman’s story is particularly touching, and not just because of the photography connection. I purposely don’t include too much of myself on this site, but sometimes I feel the need to open up a bit about the emotional impact of shooting these cases. Our son Peter is an amazing guy. He was a preemie, and spent months in the hospital after he was born. He has cerebral palsy and a history of epilepsy. He lives independently in DC and is a truly remarkable and inspirational person. I simply can’t imagine what his life would have been like had he been born in the 1920s, and when I think of Herman and his life in institutions, it breaks my heart.
I have just uploaded Frank C’s cases to the willardsuitcases.com site. His things are among the most important in the collection. There is so much to be learned from what he chose to bring with him to Willard, and from the letters he received while there. And he was such a handsome gentleman. Go to the site and click on “The Cases” and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Click on “Frank C” and make sure you click “view all” to see the photos.
I am so happy that the suitcases that were part of the Exploratorium exhibit have just arrived back at the storage facility. Among them are the last of the cases to be photographed. Yesterday Peg and I, along with museum staff, spent part of the day taking a look at the shipping containers and getting organized.
It has been a very emotional few weeks for me, as we are down to just 6 people left to photograph. It will be the end of over 4 years of shooting, and while in some ways, it is just the beginning of what will happen with the project, I am feeling a strong sense of change and loss.
Thanks for following the project, and for all the support that I receive from this fantastic virtual community.
Yesterday Peg noticed some of Margaret D’s handiwork with a needle. And here is one of those needles, still in place where she last used it. I have no idea what this process is called, but it looks quite intricate.
The annual public tour of Willard is on for Saturday the 16th of May. It is a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Children’s Center. Here is a link to their Facebook page. I would advise getting there very early, as this is a wildly popular event. Tours are run at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm. And if you have never experienced a central New York State chicken bbq, I would advise you to get some tickets for it. Also that day, a memorial service will be held at the cemetery across the street honoring Lawrence Mocha, who as a patient dug many of the graves. That event takes place at 11.00 am and should be interesting.
I will be there for much of the day, and would be most happy if those of you who follow this project would come up and say hello. If former Willard employee Peggy Ellsworth is in charge at the morgue again this year, I will probably hang out with her much of the time.
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.