The Electric Pencil Takes Manhattan

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courtesy Harris Diamant
If you plan to be in New York this week, you might want to take a couple of hours and venture to Hirschl & Adler Galleries on Fifth Avenue, near Central Park, and take a look at their new exhibition, "Talisman of the Ward: The Album of Drawings By Edward Deeds." After all, it's winter and too told for tramping around outside, and these are really amazing drawings.

Deeds, as recounted in "The Electric Pencil", a Riverfront Times feature that ran last September, spent most of his adult life in State Hospital No. 3, a mental hospital in Nevada, Missouri, where he created a remarkable collection of colored-pencil drawings. He bound some of the drawings into a book as a gift for his family; the book was lost for nearly 40 years and then, miraculously, rediscovered and subsequently recognized as a brilliant work of outsider art.

The current exhibit at Hirschl & Adler is Deeds' first major solo show. There will be a second next month at the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, the world's premier museum of outsider art. Deeds, unfortunately, won't be able to see any of this for himself; he died in 1987.

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courtesy Harris Diamant
The show has already received a positive write-up in Huffington Post and was covered by the photographer Jill Krementz (who was married to Kurt Vonnegut -- and which makes you wonder what Vonnegut would have thought of Deeds; the drawings, though probably created in the 1940s and 50s, are, like Billy Pilgrim, the hero of Slaughterhouse-Five, "unstuck in time," more evocative of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and were possibly Deeds' way of handling the unpleasant realities of his life in the hospital, most notably his electroconvulsive therapy treatments).

"Crowds have been huge and responsive, appreciative," reports Harris Diamant, the artist and collector who is the current owner of the Deeds drawings.

Deeds did his drawings on old ledger paper from State Hospital No. 3 and used both sides of each sheet. The show's curator, Tom Parker, had the drawings mounted in special two-sided frames so he wouldn't have to choose which side was more worthy of display. Each sheet sells for $16,000.

"Sales indicate that these are tough times," adds Diamant, which is a polite way of saying more people would rather admire Deeds' work than hang it on a wall in their homes.

Still, it's a respectable debut, and Parker's explanatory essay is definitely essential reading for anyone who's the least bit curious about Deeds and his work.

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