In our latest comic, check out a short history of Edith Lake Wilkinson, an artist who was born and raised in Wheeling, WV, in the late 1800s. Edith lived during a time when being openly gay was widely unaccepted, and living with a long-term female partner is suspected of having contributed to her being committed to the Sheppard Pratt Hospital – a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Once Edith was committed, all of her possessions, including her artwork, were locked away in a trunk and sent to her family back home in Wheeling. For decades, Edith’s work had been largely unknown until recently when her great-niece went on a mission to have her aunt’s work and story shared with the world.
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Though Edith’s story is wrought with turmoil, there’s comfort in knowing she can now be seen – everyone deserves that!
A Short History of Edith Lake Wilkinson, 1868-1957.
Edith was born and raised in Wheeling. She spent her early 20s living as an artist in NYC with her long-term partner Fannie. Edith became involved in the Provincetown Art Colony on Cape Cod in Massachusetts where she interacted with some of the most influential artists of the early 20th century.
After the tragic death of her parents, a lawyer took control of her inheritance and life. Due to what he described as her “paranoid state” and possibly her alternative lifestyle, she was committed. She spent a decade in Sheppard Pratt Institution with her art and belongings being shipped to her nephew in Wheeling. Edith was transferred to Huntington State Hospital in West Virginia where she lived for the rest of her life, until her death in 1957.
Many years later, her relatives discovered her forgotten artwork tucked away in a truck in the attic of their Wheeling home.
This discovery eventually led to the creation of “Packed in a Trunk,” a documentary about Edith’s life and work. Though her life was wrought with turmoil, there’s comfort in knowing she can now be seen. Everyone deserves that.
• Natalie Kovacs is the retail manager at the Wheeling Artisan Center Shop and an illustrator under the moniker Shapelessflame. She has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a minor in graphic art from Carlow University of Pittsburgh. In her spare time, you’ll find her frolicking through the woods, reading and collecting countless books, crowd surfing at concerts, or testing out new vegetarian recipes. She lives in Bethesda, OH with her husband, son, and their four mischievous cats.