March 25, 2010
The Henry Darger Study Center, established by the museum in 2000 to foster open inquiry and multidisciplinary research into the life and work of the self-taught artist, houses all four manuscripts and more than two dozen double-sided paintings, as well as approximately three thousand items from Darger’s archive of ephemera and source material. This effort received substantial encouragement from Nathan Lerner’s widow, Kiyoko Lerner. She generously donated to the museum Darger’s personal archive—including diaries, correspondence, notebooks, studies, tracings, photographs, books, and paper ephemera—and the manuscripts and typescripts of his vast literary works. This comprehensive collection is one of a kind in the world of the art of the self-taught and is the largest public collection of works by Darger; it is also the largest collection of work by a single artist in the museum’s holdings. As a result, the museum has become the most important institution for scholars interested in the work of Henry Darger.
The Henry Darger Study Center Fellowship
Every year, the museum receives countless requests for access to its Henry Darger Study Center. Committed to furthering the research on Darger and contemporary self-taught artists in general, the museum established the annual Henry Darger Study Center Fellowship in 2008, an initiative generously funded by Margaret Z. Robson. Each year, a fellow is selected to work closely with the museum’s staff to study the museum’s Darger collection in depth for four weeks in the summer and/or fall. Access to the library and permanent collection will aid the fellow in researching the artist’s manuscripts, artwork, and archive.
The 2010 Fellowship application is due April 30, 2010. Download the flyer.
2009 Fellows: Jaimy Mann and Kevin Miller
2008 Fellow: Mary Trent
January 31, 2009
posted by Caroline Picard
There is a great opportunity just around the corner that I’d urge you all to check out, and if you’re interested, apply for. It’s open to any and all Phd Students, or students in graduate school. Each year an applicant is chosen to work with the musuem staff for four-weeks, in order to study the Darger collection in depth. A housing stipend is supplied. The Henry Darger Study Center Fellowship is generously funded by Margaret Z. Robson & the application deadline is April 30th.
Here is the application information: hdscfellowflyer09lores
January 24, 2009
As you may or may not know, we are huge fans of one Mr. Henry Darger – hard ‘g’ or not. Not so recently, a a dear friend sent me a copy of a book of essays by John D’Agata, entitled “Halls of Fame.” It’s well worth the read, and I’d highly recommend it. Put out by GrayWolf Press in 2001, you can find more information about it here. Also, we put out an issue of Paper & Carriage last year that featured Henry Darger, including some of his writings, the writings of others inspired by him and a collection of incredible mages, largely contemporary, from the show “Dargerisms” curated Brooke Anderson of the Folk Art Museum in New York. In any case, here is a great essay of the same ilk. Something good for Saturday Winter-Doldrums.
Collage History of Art by Henry Darger
written by John D’Agata
PACK: SOMETHING WITH WHICH TO SEE. Bring trousers as well for the vegetation is thick. Sometimes storms, so a poncho would be smart. Also, war: in which case follow the instructions of your guide. A box lunch is provided. Do not drink the water. Please note the schedule of the moon’s fall and rise as detailed on the back of your itinerary, enclosed. Memorize this. It will be your best friend. It will be on the test. It will be in your best interest to carry wrapped gifts for our hosts—men, women, children, parents, long-lost friends, sleek-winged beasts—but do not, under any circumstances, carry cash on your person. Cameras may be cumbersome but by all means sketch. Ready? Questions? Not now. Go!
HE COMMENCED THE LONG STRUGGLE not to express what he could see, but not to express the things he did not see, that is to say the things everybody is certain of seeing but which they do not really see.
SHE REMEMBERS IT WAS A SATURDAY but can’t remember day or night. The window in Henry’s room was covered with tinfoil and the wallpaper was hidden beneath several hundred faces. She remembers taking a step closer to see exactly whose: girls. Photographs, drawings, cartoons, and stills, from newspapers, magazines, dress patterns, lunch pails. She took a step back. All their eyes were X-ed. I didn’t know if this was a joke or what, she says. Against the wall lay piles and stacks, bundles and bags, trunks and crates and a cage. I found things in there that I lost years ago, the landlady recalls as we walk through the room. Things that smelled rotten, things that looked rare. Henry’s landlady found boxes full of icons from religions she’d never heard of, photographic negatives filed and cross-filed, mounds of wax crayons worn down to a nub. On a large metal folding table in the middle of the room was a collection of arms, legs, and heads drawn onto heavy pink butcher’s paper. The tin ceiling had been painted black and the floor dusted with pencils. There was a chair with a blanket on it, another chair beside that. And against the far wall was a long and narrow bed, covered with what looked like brightly colored children’s sheets. She looked closer: they were paintings. She stepped back: they were landscapes. Beneath the bed in eight neat stacks were the notebooks she had given Henry every year for Christmas. Closer: forty years’ worth. Closer still: all filled. Closely reading some of them over the next few days, Henry’s landlady realized that they were novels, memoirs, histories, prophecies—a hoard of 21,000 pages all type-written and indexed. Over the next few years the paintings and writings would be visited by scholars, psychologists, and curators, all of whom agreed that the landlady’s eighty-year-old tenant who had washed dishes for a living and never spoken a word to her—not of art, not of anything—had left behind the largest collection of outsider art ever created by an American.
HERE’S WHAT I KNOW: Born H. Joseph Darger on April 12, 1892, his father is a tailor, his mother a housewife, and together they lived in a small house at 350 Twenty-fourth Street, Chicago. He is the only child. Later that year, sometime in September, Henry is born to an unwed seamstress in the city of Cologne, Germany. The following year: Brazil. Henry’s given South American name is Dargurius. 1896: due to complications during labor, Henry’s mother and infant sister both die at the Alexian Brothers Hospital, Chicago. The infant is immediately given up for adoption. She comes home in a basket. Enjoys piano and dance. Henry himself is sent to an orphanage. He is sent to an asylum. He experiences a period of unrecorded years. 1896-1900: the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble Minded Children houses the nation’s “most violently deformed and retarded patients under the age of seventeen,” according to a 1901 House Committee Report on Children. Number of beds for 1,562: 900. Henry is there because his father is dead. Because his father is tired. Because Henry was caught setting a warehouse fire in which several hundred dollars worth of prized rabbits were killed. Why is Henry there? “Little Henry’s heart is not in the right place,” according to patient evaluation, 1905. 1906: “Masturbation.” Henry runs away: 1908. Number of attempts preceding escape: eight. Employer number one: Alexian Brothers Hospital. Education: none. Apparent source of Henry’s encyclopedic knowledge of the American Civil War as displayed to his coworkers in the hospital’s gray wards: . Henry begins writing, in 1911, the story known to you as “The Realms of the Unreal.” Full title: The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. Plot: good vs. evil. Fuller plot: war ravages the planet Abbiennia on which a good Christian child-nation is enslaved by haughty men, thus inspiring seven immortal, identical, curlicued blond sisters to rally the good children against the bad men until terrible bloodshed (number of men “killed” during battle: 63,821; number “mortally wounded”: 63,973,868 ) persuades the men to surrender to the sisters and ultimately convert. Abbiennia’s blue moon is Earth.
“HENRY ON THE STAIRS” IS A PHOTO you’ve probably seen. It depicts the artist as a lonely, scary old man. Unshaven, unwashed, unaware of why we’ve come to stare, he’s been somewhere so sad for so long that his eyes, God help him, cannot look up. But earlier than this, in 1910, Henry makes a photograph at the Midway with a friend. He and the boy each pay eleven cents, then climb up a platform before a makeshift set. The object of the photograph, according to the backdrop, is for the young men to pretend that they are at a ball. The huge scrim sinks behind them toward a party. Above their two heads a chandelier is abloom. Henry’s young friend sits cross-legged, hatless, staring us down. He’s taken off his overcoat, rolled up his sleeves. He’s about to reach out and take us for a spin, maybe even ask if we have a cousin for his friend. Henry, meanwhile, looks past the camera’s lens. Not behind it, but beyond. Past the little machinery of make-believe surrounding him, off into the afternoon faces gathered round, the people standing by who are watching as they wait, eagerly anticipating their own turns at pretend. Henry, at this time, is new to “pretend.” He’s eighteen years old and has just escaped from an asylum. His expression, in this photograph, is one of pure shock—his eyes and mouth and whole face agog—as if he’s caught the whole world in the midst of doing wrong.
THERE WAS A GARBAGE STRIKE, a mob war, a great, long Depression. There were things piling up on Chicago’s streets as if the city had orphaned them. Henry could be seen on the sidewalks in the ‘30s pulling dolls out from trash heaps, tiny leather shoes, any magazine in which girls appeared in ads. He even tore the horsehair from an old chaise lounge. He took newspaper clippings of children lost in fires, rusty metal toys, spools of ribbon frayed, comic books, candy wrappers, stout pink bodies of Pepto Bismol bottles. Henry clipped a photograph of a little girl from the Daily News. The headline above it was just one word: GONE! According to Henry Darger, everything could be saved. He kept a list. It grew. Literature originated on clay desert rolls that itemized sheep, wheat, debt; that unraveled into praise for the wealthiest landowner, into law and writs, into myths about chaotic pasts when nothing cohered, made no sense, hadn’t ever heard of a thing called list. Beside the 15,000-paged, typed-and-single-spaced, hand-bound-and-illustrated list of Henry’s world, there were 753 wound balls of twine and fishline and rubber bands and thread that were found in his apartment after Henry was dead. He searched for knotted string in the garbage heaps he scavenged, practiced untangling all of their kinks, tied the pieces together, rolled them into balls.
IN THEIR SLEEP, HENRY WROTE, “which lasted only a few hours without interruption, that had a long and beautiful dream. This was their dream. They had been put into a very large cell, where they wandered around for a very long while, when finally they grew very tired, and sat down on the hard stone floor, just ready to cry, when all at once, a dear child of unearthly beauty, appeared before them, and asked what was the trouble, and why they were about to cry, so they told the celestial child all about it, and she said, Never you mind, we will take good care of you. Don’t be afraid. There is a golden carriage waiting in the street for you. I’ll take you to it, and then I’ll go ahead, and see that supper is ready.”
ONE MUST HAVE A GOOD MEMORY to keep the promises one makes. Art, for example, originally emerged out of the need for good hunts, strong offspring, safe journeys through death. Art allowed the earliest humans to represent things they couldn’t have, hoped to have, had too much of to carry. “Modeling,” scholars call it, the fundamental element of which is the copy. Henry, who was classified retarded and never formally taught, knew as little about art as the earliest humans. Collage is the slowest route between two points.
ONE DAY HE HEARD A VOICE WONDERING, What if. She was sitting on a tuffet, eating curds and whey. Then along came a spider—which Henry erased.
HE WORE A LONG TRENCH COAT, grew a long beard, added small penises to every naked girl. I paint with my prick, Renoir once said. At first this is the most striking element in Henry Darger’s art: that boys don’t exist, and yet the girls all lack vaginas. No place of origin, no real womb. Where did Henry come from? In one painting there is an odalisque in recline in a garden. Flowers all around her are fecund and rotting, producing blooms so fast and so large that nobody bothers to pick them. Instead, the girls in the background, the foreground, all around the woman, play amidst the odalisque’s seduction of the garden completely oblivious, as if her long stretch of mounds across the landscape were the very hills they run up and down. Long trains of girls with outstretched arms carry beach balls, giant strawberries, hats blown off their heads. Some of the girls carry nothing at all but whatever they can see in the distances ahead. Henry Darger’s paintings burst like blooms from thin air. He never studied art—was never shown art—which is why Henry’s girls all look like paper dolls. He cut them out of magazines, then glued them onto landscapes. So often repeated, their origins are moot. Yet where he wants to take his girls is the real question unfolding in all of our laps. Unfolding like a rhyme that Henry keeps repeating. Unrolling like syntax in the midst of translation. It is with my brush that I make love, is also a version of Renoir said.
PROPHETS OF NATURE, WE TO THEM WILL SPEAK a lasting inspiration, sanctified by reason, blest by faith: what we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how.
CUMULUS, NOW. THE BLOSSOMING, puffed, low-lying kind. They sweep across the landscape like girls having fun. In his paintings we can see precipitation—but only some. There is just enough for a rainbow. And over there, light drizzle. It falls so lightly, with so subtle a plop, that we look up to see it, hold our hands out to catch it…but then decide we like it, so why bother trying to prove it? In the distance is some lightning, calligraphy on hills. And above the mountain distances are blue skies embracing clouds in full view. If his paintings had windows we could point to what we feel. If Henry’s paintings were a window, would we agree on what we feel? Am I the only one, for example, who sees Shirley Temple? Little Miss Muffet? The Campbell’s Soup Kids? Henry Darger’s paintings feel like something clogged in clouds: not childhood exactly, but the skies that hung above.
COULD THE FLAP OF A BUTTERFLY’S WINGS in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?
WHEN YOU’RE ALL ALONE everything belongs to you. All the good and bad. Every yes and no. Whether to kill that little girl, or not. It was sometime in his late twenties, Henry tells us in his journal, when he lost the newspaper clipping of the girl from the Daily News. He prayed to God to return it, but God never did. Soon, war hung down around him from the towering piles of garbage that he had rescued from the streets. He hung his head over his notebook on the table and roared down at the girls who were playing in his trees. In some of his paintings: notice running. The black clouds hovering. Purple shade down. Yellow cracks severing the nano-strip of sky. An angled craze of fleeing girls is set against a phalanx marching. One soldier reaches and grabs an orphan by the throat. Her green eyes wobble, and then they bulge. One soldier spears an orphan in the spine. Her eyes pop out, replaced by an X. Eviscerations are happening at the feet of hills and trees. Of Henry, of God. The Coppertone baby has been left for dead, the Campbell’s Soup Kids are all running in a pack, Little Miss Muffett is crying, naked, scared. As the children try to scatter the sky presses down, and the whole picture frame, likewise, spreads.
MILLIONS OF SOLDIERS ON BOTH SIDES howled at each other like demons, Henry wrote in volume seven of his novel The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, “striking at each other, pouring a murderous fire at point-blank range, cutting, stabbing, hacking, thrusting, and slashing like wild savages bent on whole-sale butchery, while amid all this was an indescribably tumult of bayonets adding to the riotous din, the Angelinian girls wavered in the furnace of the fire, staggered, broke and ran, but undaunted they regathered again in hundreds of human waves, plunging again into the mighty inferno of fire and smoke, whole gray lines roaring like a trillion cannon blazing like hell and its damnation, the Angelinian girls wavered again, fell back, rallied, swarmed upon the first line of works only to go down in scores of hundreds of thousands, a fourth time beaten back, rallied, swept to the assault, reached the first line of works in the face of the murderous canister and gripped the torn and tottered and bleeding line with their dead piled in windows, only to again rally and rush to the assault like a whirlwind, the tempests of canister and musketry fire withering their many waves, a sixth time they rallied sweeping within a hundred feet of the position, as far even as the second breastworks like a whirlwind of flaming flesh and steel pouring over the bodies of their dead and dying comrades in the face of a withering roar of artillery musketry that now seemed to stun even the heaven and the earth.”
WHEN DID YOU FIRST NOTICE something missing in the world? Henry Darger died and was then brought to life. When his paintings were discovered they were “mounted,” “framed,” and “hung.” They were “lit.” Look at the painting of Henry’s girls in a cave, huddled together beneath the red hard clay, and ask yourself why we bury what leaves. Stalagmites fang around them. The air is lacquered red. Now the soldiers who pursued the girls have stopped to picnic on a knoll instead. As long as the girls are out of sight, the girls are out of mind. Once there was a woman from the Smithsonian Institution who flew to Chicago to buy Henry’s room. Here is a detail: she wanted all of Henry’s paintings, wanted all of Henry’s journals, wanted his novel that’s so long no one has read it, the very walls around everything, the ceiling above everything, the floor beneath everything, and copyright control. She wanted her sound crew to fly up to Chicago, record several hours of interviews with Henry’s neighbors, and then loop their voices through his reconstructed room so museum-goers in Washington could walk through Henry’s life. In the end, however, the deal fell through. Oh, said the woman, when she entered Henry’s room—briefly seeing the Jesus shrine, the boarded window, the hundred some-odd drawings of little girls nude—then departed the same day for Washington. The girls in his paintings have coiled far below the seeded world. Past history, past art, into a vast cavern that’s nearly dark, where their bodies are descending into the sinking red light from polka-dotted dresses, to silhouetted shapes, to gone from our eyes like an opened-up grave. Beginnings, Henry wrote, are hard. He remembered his father first telling him this when he dropped the boy off in the driveway of his new home, the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble Minded Children. Henry’s young mother and unborn sister had just died during a labor that lasted twenty-three hours. Beginnings, Henry reasoned, don’t even exist.
HENRY’S GIRLS—GRANTED—are already dead, but imagine in his paintings that they are living instead. Imagine, for example, how you would kill for art. In order to illustrate his great bloody war, Henry knew he somehow had to gather dead girls. But magazines in his day seldom published such illustrations. This, then, is how Henry first learned about color. Once cut out of magazines and pasted on the page, the girls were surrounded by washes singed with war: black shattered glass, blue melted steel, orange rusted barbs, smoke poisoned red. Henry filled in gaps as if the world would trip without him. Are girls in a wagon in the middle of a war going out to play, or are they going to their graves? Who is worthy to open the book and break the seals thereof?
VAN GOGH USED TO SWALLOW mouthfuls of dried paint. Miró starved himself. Dalí said he performed “autohypnotism” to create. Meanwhile, however, in French mental wards, Adam Christie sculpted with broken glass and nails; Martin Bigsby sewed lacey dolls’ clothes from his skin; and when Aloise Carbaz lost her privileges to paint, she began to draw self-portraits with lily stamen instead. In March 1945, while passing one day, Jean Dubuffet decided that art could happen anywhere if it could happen in sanatoria. Art, he wrote, could be spontaneous, unprocessed, full blown brut, yet still recognizably artful if only we would look. He began that fall to search for it in mental hospitals, prison yards, and soup-kitchen lines, and by 1948 over 5,000 works by 200 artists were gathered in an exhibition he called, “Compagnie de l’Art Brut.” According to Freud’s theory of recapitulation, the development of psychosis in an individual brain follows the evolution of the whole human race. God blew, Picasso said at the opening, and we were scattered.
NOW LET’S PLAY A GAME! When the girls who look like they are picking flowers bend, think to yourself that they are really lifting stones. When the girl mixing cake batter in a large bowl at her waist raises a spoon as if to stir, know that she holds a drumstick instead and is really in the midst of playing a snare. And when the forest animals gather in the clearing to play, be honest with yourself: they have come for the scraps of war. This is the game that Henry likes to play: a gray wash over everything familiar to make the seams around our memories fade. The trees blown bare in the gunfire are gray. The fence and its shadow—like a ladder on the river—gray. Blood streams out of everyone gray. As in the mud that’s made beneath them. And the world that’s stuck around them.
MUSEUMS ARE LIKE THIS ROOM. They’re not arguments and answers, not stories with a meaning, not hallways linking galleries and adding up to plot. This is the place Henry lived in for forty years. A tour group files through the room and stares at nothing but the mess. Where did he sleep? they ask. Oh, there’s the bed! The landlady lifts plastic sheets off the two chairs and bed, the large table and crayons, the four wheel-less tricycles in a corner, red. There are no more paintings in Henry Darger’s room, but there is still a mess. There is still a stack of manuscripts that no one yet has read. Still a search for a patron who’ll take this room off her hands. A Henry Darger original averages 85 grand. Once he is scattered around the world like crumbs, how will Henry Darger find his way back here?
DAY, IN 1913, WHEN HENRY WITNESSES a tornado destroy an entire Illinois town: Easter. When a handwritten draft of “The Realms” is completed: 1916. When Henry is drafted: 1917. When Henry is demobilized: 1918. “The Realms” is type-written by 1922. Number of single-spaced legal-sized pages: 15,145. Volumes: 9. Titles of other literary works of equal of greater length in the
world: . Number of pages occupied in “The Realms” by a single quotation from The Pilgrim’s Progress: 59. Number of accompanying watercolor illustrations: 318. Average painting’s length: 12 ½ feet. Number of first-edition copies of Frank Baum’s Oz books: 7. Moves to one-room Webster Street apartment in fashionable Lincoln Park. 1945: registers of conscription. Income, before taxes, 1963: $1,216.32. Year Henry begins to write autobiography: 1966. Number of pages: approximately 5,000. Number of times, per day, Henry attends mass: 4. Sometimes: 7. Years Henry chronicles the local weather forecasts: 13. How often do you do this: he does this everyday. When do you die: 1973. Number of washed and dried Pepto Bismol bottles discovered inside Henry’s room as logged by the landlady on a clipboard she shows me: “several large black plastic bags full.” Number of black bags filled with twine: 6. Number of broken eyeglasses, magazines, newspapers bundled up blocking the door; of broken toys, sewing patterns, record players, crucifixes, men’s shoes/ladie’s shoes/children’s shoes, plastic Jesus dashboard statues; typewriters, radios, ways to love a girl…How many bed linens, pillows, blankets do you have: for weeks on end I imagine Henry simply couldn’t find his bed.
I’M SORRY IF I MISLED YOU into thinking this would be fun. That a paragraph could stand in for Henry Darger’s room. That this essay could be a gallery you could walk through on your own, that you could get to know Henry on a Sunday afternoon. What I meant to say is that Henry never had any guests. I didn’t mean to say apartment, but maybe stanza instead.
noun, singular, English: poem
noun, singular, French: stance
noun, singular, Italian: room, chamber, stopping place
CHILDREN USUALLY INTER THEIR PARENTS, Herodotus wrote in the earliest History, but war violates this natural order, and causes parents to inter their children. He is sitting there at his table with twelve feet of cave-black crayon covering his hands, trying to recall his father’s face in their night-pitched kitchen after candles ran out, before the war worries of money crept up between them both, before poor little Henry got buried in the past. Henry was never taught about History in school, and so he never learned this word that’s wrapped around him: interred. He looks over at the bed where the first five volumes of his own war lie bound. Does every life have a story? Why am I alone? He picks up volume one: eleven feet of paintings bound tightly together by glue and wire and cardboard and thread and can’t remember for the life of him how this all began, nor why he even bothered, nor what should happen next. Kneeling on the floor he lifts with both hands the front cover up. Midway open the book scrapes plaster and photographs and crosses off the wall—then is jams against the ceiling. His room is too small.
THAT WHICH IS GROWS; that which is not becomes. If Henry had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his lifetime, he most likely would have encountered Dr. Walter A. Freeman, the best-known American psycho-surgeon of the day, and pioneer of the ingenious “ice-pick lobotomy.” Between 1942 and 1952 alone, over 5,000 lobotomies in the U.S. were performed—one-third of them by Dr. Freeman. “Much less intrusive than conventional surgery with a drill,” Dr. Freeman once explained to Time magazine, “my technique, with an ice pick, enters the brain subtly by way of the eye socket.” Already, Time reported in 1945, scores of patients have been saved by Dr. Freeman’s technique. But Henry, in his paintings, depicts giant winged dragons called Blengins saving girls. Henry has known about Blengins all of his life. They are ferocious creatures, but they love little girls. And their sequined long tails hold a secret at the tip: when pierced by one in the breast, a child becomes immortal.
HENRY WRAPPED A GIRL in pink butcher’s paper. He carried her outside, around the corner, and into the local drugstore. On the counter of the Photolab he unwrapped the little girl and asked the clerk to reproduce the drawing in five larger sizes and five smaller ones. Henry has realized, finally, that he can trace instead of cut. It is late in his life. He has hundreds of samples of girls in his collection. He knows that he will never be in search of friends again. From that moment on any girl whom Henry peels off his wall will be exactly the right girl for the space he needs to fill. He’ll trace parts of one girl onto bits of others—arms from someone waving, legs from someone leaning, a dress from Cinderella, wings from birds instead—and thus render all the life happening outside his room, outside in the hallway, outside in the trash, outside where our lives are ready for his taking, moot. At the center of everything is a very small, black room; a heart, let’s say, beating in the darkness.
A CROWD IS NOT COMPANY, and faces are but a gallery, and talk a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.
WHEN HENRY DARGER DIED there was something blowing through the city. A breeze hard to distinguish between the now and the then, making Henry’s life vanish into the rift therein. Trains, for example, arrived on time and didn’t. Trees continued shading Chicago as they grew. The little girls on Henry’s walls traded dolls, dated jocks, raised their children, peddled Avon, posed off and on for advertising photos, felt tired under the lights, blew bangs from their eyes. Upon Henry’s death, no word blew through the city. No letters from pen pals were left behind when Henry died. No family heirlooms were discovered in Henry’s room when he died. No neighbors held gatherings on their front stoops to share, in memorium, anecdotes of Henry’s forty years on their hill. No one even knew that Henry lived on that hill. No obituary was written. No wake sat through. No grave. No history. No life. What to do? There is no history, Emerson said. One biography. In the absence of information then, maybe biographers feel the need to fill their own lives sometimes into history’s gaps—as if their own pasts could illustrate another’s private world. But collage, as Henry wrote, is about collecting trash not dumping it. A biographer may feel the urge to cut from his life divorce. Past it into the essay. Mean by that the war. He may sprinkle in some casualties. Stand back. Wait.
I SPEND A LAYOVER IN CHICAGO in Henry’s small room. At noon his landlady brings a white crusty sandwich and a red bowl of soup. She asks how much longer I think I will be. I like the privacy of Henry’s room with its foil-shaded window and black-painted ceiling and the eyes of his audience X-ed out with pencil. I like anything leadened. I like his paragraphs stacked, quotes amassed, blocks of prose boarding up the windows of his world. I’d like to stay a few more hours if that’s alright, I say. She thinks I’m a reporter. How meticulous you’re being. How thorough, she says. By the time dusks starts dropping I’ve filled a small notebook, read through a few journals, skimmed two volumes of the novel, know exactly what to write. It will all be about Henry’s wall of girls, about all their eyes. The little windows Henry boarded before leaving our world. Evening falls and there are no lamps to see by. I stand and gather my pack of notes. Zip up my coat. Lift my bag onto my back. Cars in the alley flip their headlights on. They come into the room through two tears in the foil. Driving up the ceiling, down the wall of girls. One pair of eyes is caught briefly in the headlights. She winks. Or blinks. Maybe I’m dreaming. Then another pair shines as a car sweeps by. Then more open, more shut. The opposite wall is sighing. I look closer: it’s the lead. I stand back: it reflects. They’re waking up. They’re alive. The girls are waiting for Henry.
COLLAGE IS MADE UP OF THE PIECES in the box that are left after following all directions very carefully.
IT IS ALSO IN THE ACCIDENT on Interstate 89. In the shopping mall, in the family room, in the battlefield, in the stew. In the library, in the ruins, in the championship fight. In the rough draft, the rough cut, the rough-hewn night. In vaudeville, newspapers, attics, trains, the Internet, entropy, rap-song sampling. Collage occurred in the wondercabinets preceding all museums. It happened when scrolls of aphorisms unraveled into essay. When Henry walked past garbage and felt a jolt: create! Surely the heart must break before it can begin to feel.
October 23, 2008
posted by Caroline Picard, transcribed by Nick Sarno and written by Henry Darger. This piece was originally published in Paper&Carriage no. 3, available here.
It had far more wallop than even a powerful atomic bomb.
Helpless to check their destructive wild fury she has none the less sent here wise men from our schools armed with every method and exact methods and with delicate instruments and they have assumed the tasks of observing and recording what ever may be gathered for the stock of human knowledge.
A most singular
The opening cloud
belly with irresistible
Among these eminent scientist is professor Snodgrass of the University of Front Royal Virginia. “To my mind,” he said! “The most interesting point about this tornado horror is the fact of the explosion of the child clouds it was this. The protruding tongue turning into the twister did not go all the way down to the ground from its source, but pierced first through the chest, and with immeasurable force forced its way through the belly of the childs formation of cloud.
What ever was the cause this was the source of all annihilation.
The funnel that shot from the “childs” belly in an action like a bow pipe effect was actually shot in the direction of that woodland region and the vessels in the river roadstead along side of it.
The intense wild fury and immeasurable force of the blowpipe cut a patch through the full length of the woods and there is a very well defined line of total demarcation between the section it so savagely tore its way through.
Yet the most unusual point about this freakest formed cyclone is the fact that the awful twister exploding out of the childs cloud belly in a down to the woods direction, and afterwards took a horizontal onward direction and while it is too early yet to attempt a definite explanation of this singular phenomenon I am inclined to believe that the funnel tore through it to a very great length and following the law of gravitation descended [with] great velocity a velocity comparable perhaps with the swiftness of its onrush especially when it fell upon the end section of the woods and then tore on its was through with immeasurable fury.
Here it encountered the main woods in its progress and was accordingly deflected in a horizontal direction. Then good by to that portion of the woods.”
Likewise then what? After the withering fury of the woods the horror of Johnstontown devastation, the knockout blow at Gleason City then the ill fated contour of grounds. It was actually equal to a portent of universal destruction blazed before a terrified country [and] world.
It was the actual real beginning of the crash and most violent suction wind pull of the greatest tornado disaster of the age bursting with the most appalling immeasurable wind pull through these grounds. All Illinois was joyful in the beauties of late summertime prosperity and progress was reigning.
Suddenly out of that cloud belly came the shock of the most violent tornado ever on record the destruction of Johnstontown. Gleason, Jena, and Ground Contuor villiages villiages the disappearance of most of the people and all on the contour of grounds.
This terrible tornado disaster which overwhelmed and wiped out six miles length of the ground contour among the most peaceful and beautiful landscapes in the world, and even here destroyed an unknown number of lives in almost an instant and injure many more badly and painfully had about it a certain unique features that justify special attention beyond all other such strong and mighty wind cataclysm of nature.
It had far more wallop than even a powerful atomic bomb.
However stupendous and shocking the many different catastrophes of the past [may] be none of then can compare to this storm. It was a wind convulsion of nature tremendous beyond all man’s conception, immeasurable beyond measure, almost at our very doors. It happened however _________________________________________________ the printing press and the newspapers and books had been invented also telegraph and telephone but these were now of no avail for nothing for weeks and weeks could depict the truth or the very scenes of the destruction itself because of the wiping out of all communications.
Now on August 15th 1913 the feast of the Assumption of Lady (Mother of God) comes a swirling cloud of devastating horror inconceivably tremendous almost as I say again at our doors, with all these invented agencies of modern progress at hand for recording and preserving every graphic detail and this kinetic harridan wipes them out.
Even the news of the tornado and the slaughter it had for as far as it had traveled could not even be flashed as far as St. Louis South.
October 23, 2008
posted by Caroline Picard, transcribed by Nicholas Sarno and written by Henry Darger
this was originally published in Paper&Carriage no. 3, available here.
How can I be a saint when I won’t stand for trials?
St Vincent’s Church I can I suppose, but dare not stand at standing times or kneel also and it at times is mighty tire some sitting all that time.
I go to three morning masses and communion, at the Seven thirty Mass every day, and one extra Mass on Sunday after noon at five o’clock, besides the Seven fifteen a.m. and the eight thirty.
And on Mondays I go to the Miraculous Medal Novena Devotions. It too is followed by a Mass.
What did you say? I am being a saint? Ha, Ha. I am one, and a very sorry Saint I am. Ha Ha. How can I be a saint when I won’t stand for trials, bad luck, pains in my knees or otherwise.
I am afraid I was a sort of devil if I may call myself one, during the bad pain of my knee at night. I had forgot to mention that in the early part of September 1917 I was drafted into the army, when the United States entered the latest part of World War One.
I found army life far from pleasant, but I was soon transferred from Camp Grant Ill. to camp Logan, near Houston Texas.
Through real bad eye trouble, which though I greatly exaggerated, I received my dismissal from the army, and got my old job at St Joseph’s hospital.
I was working then afterwards these too under Sister Rufena in the dishwashing room and when the Second World War was on I had to register then again for the army conscription, but I believe because of my age I was not called, fortunately. This time I don’t say why, I could not have passed the physical examination.
I sure felt good about it, as I hated Army life. But you know if I would have been a draft evader I would served a three or four year term in prison.
And I do not under any conditions like the idea of being a jail bird, as at least that is what all persons will call you.
To go back to my cross of suffering I would not bear, I firmly believe there is no one not even you my reader who would I’m sure, who would put up with such pains, my past severe toothaches, face pains, and side pains and other things I don’t find time to mention here.
The knee pain at night I must confess and am not ashamed to tell of it, I actually shook my first towards heaven.
I did not mean it for God though, though I felt like it.
What sin it was if it was one I do not know for sure but when I told it in confession the priest was disturbed, admonished me, and gave me a severe or long prayer penance to recite. Yet the severe knee pain drove me to it.
Yet while working on the first floor at St Joseph’s Hospital, in the main ward, or rooms I never found any patients who put up with any severe pains either.
Then why should I. And people who do suffer are usually crabby or hard to get along with.
Yet despite that pain even bothering me severely in the morning I went to and stayed through three Holy Masses a week on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
And also to work on the working days. Yet I stood it.
Would you have done it?
But I will say again of that one morning up at or in the bandage room with Joe my right leg began again while I was rolling hot packs, and it became so terribly severe, that I could not stand on it, and to add to my misery my right side acted up severely at the same time.
I had to quit and the doctor who I went to and examined my leg advised me to retire.
I did so depending on my Social Security. I retired November 19, 1963. Have been retired since and I’ll say it is a lazy life and I don’t like it.
I suppose a real lazy person would enjoy it.
I do wish I could be back working there again. To make matters worse now I’m an artist, been one for years, and cannot hardly stand on my feet because of my knee to paint on the top of the long picture.
Yet off and on on I try and sit down when ache or pain starts. I remember when I and a tall man were walking down Webster Ave. homeward bound at dark in late fall we saw an auto driver without head lights on strike a dog nearly killing the animal right there and then nearly being hit by a car coming from the west.
I wished we had been motorcycle cops then. We would have arrested him,
There is one strange thing I have got to write. Even when a young little boy, “I felt insulted being called kid” I have had peculiar willful ways, and very independent nature.
At that time I never even heard the word ‘brat’ and had I and would have known what it meant and any one would have called me that, that party boy, girl, or grownup would have got a rock or brick on the head.
I don’t care what would be the result I would have done it.
But fortunately I never heard any one call a little boy or girl that. I was told that any one calling a child that commits a very grave sin. Yet too I’ll say again also I won’t under any conditions or costs, stand for anything going wrong, or bear any kind of trials or disappointments whatever.
I would not even stand for a snowless winter. I cried once when snow stopped falling. And my poor father looked at me so queer. It must have been unusual for him, or to him.
Though were they small ones, I have committed sins because of these trials disappointments and things going wrong or not running smoothly and especially all sorts of childhood pains and miseries. I was very dangerous if teased.
posted by Caroline Picard, transcribed by Nicholas Sarno and written by Henry Darger
This was originally published in Paper&Carriage no. 3, available here.
Do you think I might be fool enough to run away from heaven if I get there?
I loved to work in the fields. We worked on the farm only in the summer time. During our working days we at night slept in a large place called the Dormitory.
The farm had a regular boiler and engine room, and motor dynamos or other machinery that produced the electric lights.
The farm was supervised by a man whose known name was Allenburger. He had a wife and little girl. They were very good people.
We boys working on the farm were divided into ‘gangs,’ three gangs I believe and under a supervisor for each. Their names were John Fox, Whiliam O’Neil and Mr. West. He was the cow-bow.
At the approach of late fall we were returned to the asylum which Mr. Allenberger ‘termed’ the bug-house. Bughouse. I loved it much better than the farm. But yet I loved the work there. Yet the asylum was home to me.
While back at the home I received a severe shock.
I got the bad news that my father died at the St. Augustine home.
I did not cry or weep however.
I had that kind of deep sorrow that bad as you feel I could not. I’d been better off if I could have. I was in that state for weeks and because of it I was in a state of ugliness of such nature that every one avoided me, they were so scared.
Even when back on the farm the next summer they noticed a change in me.
They heard the sad news however and did not bother me. During the first of my grief I hardly ever ate anything, and was no friend to any one.
I was even very dangerous if not left alone.
I believe I was at the asylum 7 years and during the summers between that time on the farm.
During the early summer of the fourth year it was June I made my first attempt to run away but that farms cowboy caught me in a corn field, tied my hands together on a long rope and made me run back all the way on the rear of his horse.
The second attempt was successful. I with another boy hitch hiked a freight. He got off at Joliet where he lived. I rode on to Chicago.
After a storm I foolishly gave myself up to the police who had me sent back. I stayed then again for more than a year.
What made me run away? My protestation of being sent away from the asylum, where I wanted to stay, as for some reason it was home to me.
During the early summer of the following year, the sixth I believe it was June two boys working on the farm induced me to run away with them.
We then got an actual work for a short spell with a German Farmer.
It was a job driving to the nearest town with a wagon load of something the farmer sold there.
At meal times, breakfast dinner or supper, he said the Our Father, and sang some sort of a German hymn before we ate. He asked why we did not join him.
We answered we do not know any German.
His son and wife answered some parts.
Being short of working conditions he finally had to let us go, me and a stouter boy. We were paid. He kept the other boy. Excuse me I do not remember their names.
With me giving a part of my money to my stout companion we rode on the Ill. Central to Decatur Ill. I again while there wanted to see Chicago again.
You would not believe it, but I then walked from Decatur Ill. to Chicago arriving early in August. Because of unusual warm weather, and hardly able to sleep I walked also many a night.
I had forgot to mention when the time I gave myself up to the police. I was taken by train the poor house at Dunning town. From there after a month stay I was sent to the asylum at Lincoln Ill.
But this hike to Chicago from Decatur was successful.
I knew her address so I went and took refuge at my Godmothers and after some weeks there she took me to St Josephs’ Hospital which was on Burling and then the street called Garfield Ave.
It now is known as Dickens Ave. I prefer it would have retained its original name as Dickens was an English man, Garfield an American and one of our presidents.
I got a job there as Hospital on floor janitor I worked there under Sister Mary Rose and later under another Sister Dorothy. Sister Rose was prim but good. Sister Dorothy was good too, but you could joke with her.
I worked under each of them until I was there for a little over fourteen years.
The name of the head Sister’s were Sister Cephas and Camilla.
Both were good, but Sister Cephas took sick and died less than a year after I arrived. At the earliest of my time, because of an old injury to my right shoulder, I had to be left handed, with the sweeping broom and other things.
All Sisters scoldings could not change me to sweeping with my right. As my shoulder injury was caused by a fight I did not explain to her. She gave up nevertheless and let me sweep as I please I sure know or knew how to scrub all hall floors and rooms as clean as they would come and all on my hands and knees.
And that was not done that way to humble myself. For under no condition would I humble myself and Heaven keep the one who would dare humble me.
One did and was in a hospital for a year. And some how I got away with it too.
But it was on that score 50-50 as I never exulted myself then either. I do now and how.
As I said before and again will write that also because of my injured shoulder I did really find myself unable to use other certain household articles and the sweeping broom or brush.
In my younger days which I forgot to mention when angry over something I burned holy pictures and hit the face of Christ in pictures with my fist. I wonder would I have the heart to do so now? I can’t say yes or no.
I’ve got an awful nasty temper.
Sometime how or other for a time Sister Rose finding out I came from the home of Feeble minded children thought I was still crazy.
I believed she got the information from Sister Nina who was called Sister Seno by others. My Godmother not thinking of the consequences told her.
The whole hospital full of persons soon knew. I was then called crazy. I had I believe more brains than all combined. None of them I found out ever even knew Geography or History. I did. My spelling, figures and reading and writing was more excellent than theirs.
My finding it out, there are many cities in this country and the old world they could not spell or pronounce. I could.
Berlin and Dresden are still the most beautiful cities in the world.
Berlin is largest next to London and New York City.
As I said before I received admonition from Sister Rose because of my enforced left handedness until I could prove it was impossible with my right hand.
Once in searching for something that got lost from me in a very dark enclosure of the out exit on the ground floor behind the dining room, by which you go outside by the rear, I scared some young woman (she was cowardly and timid anyway) out of her wits accidentally.
When Sister Rose heard of it, by someone telling her she scolded me good, and said she surely believed that I am really crazy.
But I could see that while scolding me she also had a hard fight with herself to keep from laughing over it. Yet afterwards by many, that woman was looked on as a Scardy-cat, and “chicken.”
She quit after that. Several times when scolding me for something, whether I did it or not, she threatened to sent me back to the Lincoln Asylum.
I wished then she had. I felt I was a fool for after all running away. I was better off there and never was scolded. But I knew they would not take me back now, and told her so.
On the Christmas midnight mass, a cold snowy one in December 1909 I received in their chapel my first Holy Communion. I was unable to convince them before then, that I was a Baptized Catholic, but in the asylum, I even then knew all things of the Religion but also in the Asylum, and on the state farm, they never even for us all, showed any kind of religion.
They seemed even Godless even in the School there. The only sign of something like religion was in the Asylums main childrens dining room for us when before and after meals the Our Father was recited by the dining room matron only ending the prayer in the Protestant way.
Or on Sunday some sort of Sunday School where only some hymns was sung by the best singers.
Otherwise no sign of religion at all. She said then I did right to run away. My Godmother had me baptized on the snowy afternoon in St Patricks Church on Des Plaines and Adams Street Chicago.
The way it was there as I told her, you’d think there was no God at all. And at first I wanted to stay there. I suppose they had the idea that feeble minded could not at all understand Religious instruction.
Then why were they to go to school? The School building as I wrote before I believe was over two hundred feet north of the asylum.
And there was an under ground tunnel leading to it from the Asylum to be used only in bad weather. All this I told her. I cant say whether I was actually sorry I ran away from the State farm or not but now I believe I was a sort of fool to have done so.
My life was like in a sort of Heaven there. Do you think I might be fool enough to run away from heaven if I get there? Besides for doing it the third time the officials of the state farm would not take me back.
If I have to go back for a few words again about my stay at the asylum because many things do slip my mind. I’m telling the truth there was a night freeze rain lasting till mid morning of the next day followed by the most terrific blizzard storm I have ever seen before and during my life time, even now.
October 23, 2008
In the third issue of Paper & Carriage (pub. GLPress/threewalls), we had the honor of publishing some of Henry Darger’s writing, in conjunction with some of the images used in the Folk Art Museum show “Dargerism.” It’s a really stunning issue, actually, full of goodies, including some drawings by Daniel Johnston, an original CD of other people’s mantras by Sherri Lynn Wood and an inserted artist multiple by Carmen Price. At any rate, I thought I’d post the Darger stuff, along with the some of the Dargerism images. If any of you have any interest in picking up a copy, you cand so here. Printed in a limited editon of 250, they are $18/piece. At any rate, over the course of the day, I’m going to post three of the Darger excerpts. You can see what you think-
posted by Caroline Picard
A Note on the Text
Henry Darger wrote in a large, legible script. At first glance, one would deem it child-like, but the similarities in the letters and their even spacing are not those of someone just learning how to write. Rather, I would describe his handwriting as determined. If the letters do not take shape smoothly, it is not due to unfamiliarity with their form: it is because he wrote slowly, with force, plotting out each word in advance.
And yet, despite its clarity, there were choices to be made. There are misspellings, of course (some of them rather interesting: machenry for machinery, for instance, or prime instead of prim), but no more than can be expected in a handwritten manuscript several thousand pages long. There are inconsistencies in capitalization (Second World war) and marks floating just above and below the lines of notebook paper that could serve as commas, periods, or apostrophes (though never all three simultaneously). I would like to have printed a faithful reproduction of Darger’s own notebooks, with strikes through the mistakes he crossed out and all the misspelled place names intact, but in the end I decided to err on the side of readability. This should serve as an introduction to a vast archive of materials that are only now coming to light; as such, it would be a shame to litter the page with brackets, footnotes and strikethroughs.
I have corrected a number of misspelled words, capitalized where needed but, all in all, I have left the writing as it is. Stains on the manuscript obscured the few words you will find in brackets: these are my guesses as to what they may be. The titles of the selections were not chosen by the author, but were taken directly from the text.
Special thanks to Michael Bonesteel for for facsimiles of the original manuscript, and to Kiyoko Lerner for allowing us to publish these selections.