Saturday, April 23, 2016

Discovering a new/old American artist in Anderson & Boyaner's PACKED IN A TRUNK: THE LOST ART OF EDITH LAKE WILKINSON

What a surprise and what a treat it is to discover an important American artist you've never heard of, yet whose work proves a real joy to view. When that artist is long dead, utterly unknown, and spent the final 32 years of her life committed to an asylum, her story would seem to be rather special, but when her art proves to be even more so, art and documentary aficionados will know they've stuck pay dirt. The artist in question is one, Edith Lake Wilkinson, whose great-niece, award-winning playwright and screenwriter Jane Anderson, has shepherded the project to fulfillment, acting as co-writer, along with Michelle Boyaner, shown below, who also directed the documentary.

Though their lives ranged over more than a century, these two women, Wilkinson and Anderson, shared talents, interests and sexual preference. Both were artists, often attracted to similar subjects, and both were/are lesbians -- Wilkinson, in a time when this was not accepted in America (it may have accounted in part for why she was committed to the asylum) and Anderson, shown below, right, who is now married to her spouse, Tess Ayers, below, left, who figures prominently in this film about art and discovery.

How Wilkinson's art was discovered -- packed in the trunk of the title, in West Virginia, where Anderson grew up, surrounded by her great aunt's paintings, yet not understanding fully who the artist was or what had happened to her -- is the jumping-off point for this fine documentary.

Wilkinson's tale, as told in PACKED IN A TRUNK: THE LOST ART OF EDITH LAKE WILKINSON, is one of a privileged life (the artist is shown in her youth, at right) in which our heroine comes to New York City, attends art school, falls in love with an older women (who coincidentally has the last name of Wilkinson), makes several trips to Europe, joins the Provincetown school of art that arose on Cape Cod in the early 20th Century, and is finally done in by a sleazy lawyer who has her committed to that asylum.

Her art -- several paintings and one woodcut print (at bottom) are featured below -- turns out to be quite wonderful and varied, full of that spectacular light that emanates on the tip of Cape Cod, where no large industry has existed and consequently no air pollution dilutes or mars the light/color.

The movie shows us how Anderson and Ayers investigate Edith's past and slowly uncover her story -- some of it, at least. (Although, a fellow Provincetown artist named B.J.O. Nordfeldt is credited with developing the "white-line print" in 1915, the movie posits, pretty believably, that Wilkinson did this a full year earlier than Nordfeldt.) We learn of her relationship with her partner, Fanny Wilkinson, her diagnosis as "paranoid" by the hospital that takes her in, and we meet and talk to relatives who loved and valued Edith's work.

Ms Anderson even manages to obtain a gallery show in Provincetown, and eventually a museum home for Wilkinson's art. Yet this artist's personal life remains pretty obscure, and the filmmakers' decision to go to a psychic in order to "reach" Edith and uncover more about her life may strike some viewers -- TrustMovies, for instance -- as not such a hot idea. Oh, yes, this psychic -- who has even (as so many of them these days seem to do) helped the police in various investigations -- certainly seems to be "reaching" Edith Wilkinson and even Fanny Wilkinson, too. But, really now...

All this may be part and parcel with Ms Anderson's particular peppy, positive, can-do lifestyle, which is reflected throughout the documentary. In the final analysis, however, it's the art that counts. Once you've seen the movie, go on the film's website and look at it all. It's pretty wonderful. And film is, at least, a good introduction to it. And to Edith herself, mystery that she still remains.

From Wolfe Video and running just 78 minutes, Packed in a Trunk hits DVD and VOD this Tuesday, April 26 -- for purchase or rental.

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