The drawings you see above were done by an outsider artist who's been dubbed the Electric Pencil, although his real name was Edward Deeds. As is the case with many outsider artists, his work balances childlike innocence with obsessive attention to certain details. I don’t like all outsider art, but I definitely like the Electric Pencil.
So what does this have to do with Permanent Record? Two things:
1) Deeds, who lived from 1908 through 1987, spent most of his life in a mental hospital. As you can see, he did his drawings on old hospital ledger sheets, which were provided to him by the facility's staff. I love the repurposing of this official paperwork, which which reminds me of the Manhattan Trade School report cards.
2) Deeds compiled 283 of his drawings into a hand-bound album that he gave to his family. The album was then accidentally discarded during a family move, after which it was found in a town dump by a teen-ager who kept it for nearly 40 years. It then passed to a used books dealer, to a recreational art/photo collector, and finally to a more serious art collector, who liked the drawings so much that he set out to determine who had created them. There was no indication of Deeds' identity in the album, so the art collector resorted to hiring a private detective and other research methods. The project ended up being very much like my Permanent Record research.
I'm happy to report that the collector was eventually able to connect with Deeds' family, so we now know the full backstory regarding these drawings. It's all spelled out in a sensational article that recently ran in the Riverfront Times (a weekly newspaper in St. Louis), which I recommend in the strongest possible terms. Not to be missed! There's also a slideshow with about three dozen Electric Pencil drawings. And when you're done with all that, you'll want to check out the Electric Pencil web site that the art collector has set up.
(Major thanks to PermaRec reader Thomas Desmond for bringing the Electric Pencil to my attention.)
Slate reminder: In case you missed it last week, the latest full-length Permanent Record article on Slate is now available. Enjoy.