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A Talent Forgotten: The Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson

July 2 - September 18, 2016


It has been close to 60 years since West Virginia artist Edith Lake Wilkinson died in Huntington, West Virginia, in 1957 after spending the final decades of her life in the city's state asylum. When the exhibit titled A Talent Forgotten: The Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson went on view at the Huntington Museum of Art on July 2, 2016, the artist finally received some recognition for her work in a city where she lived for many years under the care of the state. (right: Edith Lake Wilkinson (American, 1868-1957), View from Provincetown Hill, with St. Peter's Church, ca. 1913-1923. Oil on canvas board, 14 x 19 inches. Funds provided by the Sarah Wheeler Charitable Trust in memory of Harold R. (Steve) Wheeler and Sarah Slack Wheeler. This work is part of the permanent collection of the Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, W.Va.)

"The Huntington Museum of Art is very pleased to be the first art museum in West Virginia to own a number of original works by her," said Geoffrey K. Fleming, Huntington Museum of Art's Executive Director. "This is also a historically important occasion for a number of reasons. It will be the first major exhibition of Edith Lake Wilkinson's artwork in nearly a century in her home state of West Virginia, and it is the largest number of her works ever assembled for exhibition," he continued.

Wilkinson was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on Aug. 23, 1868. Wilkinson, who grew up with a passion for art under her mother's tutelage, graduated from The Union School and moved to New York City in 1889 to study at the Art Students League. She remained at the League though 1891, where she studied with a number of important American painters, including James Carroll Beckwith, William Merritt Chase, and Kenyon Cox.

Later, Wilkinson began to travel regularly to the growing art colony located in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Here, among many other young, American artists including fellow West Virginian Blanche Lazzell, she thrived and honed her impressionistic technique. It was during her time there that she found herself at the forefront of the development of what has become known today as the "white line woodblock print," a curiously American print form developed by the artist and teacher, B.J.O. Nordfeldt. From 1913 through 1923 she would be a fixture during the summer months in the bohemian art colony along with her partner, Fannie Wilkinson.

Following the accidental death of her parents in 1922, Edith Lake Wilkinson increasingly fell under the control of the attorney handling their substantial estate, George Jackson Rogers. Years later, he was accused of pilfering his clients' holdings, including those of Edith Lake Wilkinson, and he may have had her committed to an asylum to take total control of her money. She was first permanently committed to the Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore in 1925, and, in 1935, was moved to Huntington.

Edith Lake Wilkinson never left the state hospital in Huntington. Deprived of her ability to create art, she died there in 1957. Her artwork, which had been packed away in trunks in the family home in Wheeling, was rediscovered in the 1960s and since that time there has been a growing interest in her life and career.

A Talent Forgotten: The Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson will run at HMA through September18, 2016. An illustrated catalog on Wilkinson, her life, and her works will be available for sale through the HMA gift shop.

Huntington Museum of Art plans to show the documentary film about the artist titled "Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson" on Aug. 23, 2016, during the August Tuesday Tour on the day that is the 148th anniversary of Wilkinson's birth. The documentary film is available on DVD from Wolfe Video. Admission to this Macy's Free Tuesday event is free.

This exhibit is sponsored by Dr. Leslie Petteys & William "Skip" Campbell; and Louise & Lake Polan. Presented with support from Margaret Mary Layne in Honor of Jamez Morris-Smith and Samuel Kincaid.

This program is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

Resource Library editor's notes:

Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson is a 77 minute 2015 documentary film about the artist. A website, including the official HBO trailer for the video, is at <http://www.packedinatrunk.com/>. The site says: "Packed in a Trunk uncovers the story of artist Edith Lake Wilkinson, committed to an asylum in 1924 and never heard from again. We follow the journey of Edith's great-niece as she pieces together the mystery of Edith's life and returns her work to Provincetown."

The website <http://www.edithlakewilkinson.com> has many examples of work by the artist - including paintings, woodblock prints, charcoals and drawings and sketchbooks, plus other information.

Cape Cod Wave Magazine has an October 18, 2013 online article by Laura M. Reckford titled "Finding Edith Lake Wilkinson: After 90 Years, Provincetown Artist Return" at <http://capecodwave.com/finding-edith-lake-wilkinson-after-90-years-provincetown-artist-returns/>. The article relates to the first one-woman show for the artist. Also included are quotes by playwright, screenwriter and director Jane Anderson. Wilkinson was her great-aunt.

Provincetown Magazine has an October 9, 2013 online article by Steve Desroches titled "Out of the Past: The Rediscovered Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson" at <http://provincetownmagazine.com/2013/10/09/out-of-the-past-the-rediscovered-art-of-edith-lake-wilkinson/>. The article focuses on efforts by Jane Anderson to further tell the story of Wilkinson.

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