405 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA 02657
Edith Lake Wilkinson - Packed in a Trunk
After all these years, Edith finally came home...to Provincetown!
Jane Anderson, the great niece of Edith Lake Wilkinson tells the story...
Packed in a Trunk
Some time back in the early 60's, my mother was having one of those bored, restless days, visiting the in-laws in Wheeling, West Virginia. So she proposed to my Aunt Betty that they go up to the attic of Grandma’s old three-story house and see what treasures they could dig up. They found a couple of old trunks that had been sequestered there for years. They belonged to Uncle Eddie’s long-forgotten maiden aunt. No one in the family ever talked about poor Aunt Edith. She had been shut away in a mental institution for years and back in those days, that was just something that nice families didn’t talk about. But when my mother opened the trunks, she found dozens of Edith's light-drenched canvasses tucked in with her mouldering clothes. This wasn’t the work of an amateur painter or a mentally unstable naïf. These were sophisticated pieces done by a gifted artist, who was clearly trained and influenced by the art movements of her day. My mother, having an eye for beautiful things, asked Aunt Betty if she could have some of these paintings. Aunt Betty, an outdoorsy person (her passions were bird watching and golf), was glad to have my mother take some of Edith’s paintings off her hands. Apparently she had already unloaded a bunch at a garage sale and where those paintings are, nobody knows.
I grew up surrounded by Edith’s work. Her palette, her brush strokes, the quality of light in her landscapes became part of my own visual vocabulary. I painted with the brushes that my mom had retrieved from Edith's trunks. I ended up wrecking every last one of them but I don't think Edith would have minded. If you look at all the studies she did of children, you can see that she had a soft spot for kids. She even let some child draw a silly duck on a page in one of her sketch books. She must have been a gentle, playful, curious soul.
When I was 20, I moved to New York City -- the same age as Edith when she left her home in Wheeling to study at the Art Student League. I took classes at the League as well and kept notebooks filled with subway riders, bag ladies, sunbathers in Central Park, scenes from Coney Island and the Lower Eastside. Around that time, my aunt and uncle let me root through their closets and drawers for any more scraps of Edith that I could find. It was then that I found Edith’s sketchbooks and I was astonished to see that sixty years earlier, Edith had been wandering those same streets sketching the people she saw: street vendors, immigrant women with their children, uptown ladies arranged on park benches. It was clear that we were visual soul mates.