Embroidery of the Insane?

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Agnes Richter’s Blouse on display in Heidelberg Germany

 

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Agnes Richter was a German seamstress held as a patient in an insane asylum during the 1890s. During her time there, she densely embroidered her strait jacket with words, undecipherable phrases and drawings which  documented her thoughts and feelings throughout her time there.

Through the script she transcribed herself into time, space and place. Her writing orients and disorients. Made in 1895, it is a standard issue uniform given to mental patients at the time. Richter has embroidered so intensively that reading impossible in certain areas of the garment. Words appear and disappear into seams and under layers of thread. There is no beginning or end, just spirals of intersecting fragmentary narratives. She is declarative: “I”, “mine”, “my jacket”, “my white stockings…., “I am in the Hubertusburg / ground floor”, “children”, “sister” and “cook”. In the inside she has written “1894 I am / I today woman”. She has also re-embroidered the laundry number printed on her jacket “ 583 Hubertusburg”, almost transforming something institutional and distant into something intimate, obsessive and possessive. It is a compelling piece of hypertext and untamed writing

 

This remarkable object was collected by Hans Prinzhorn, a psychiatrist who ardently collected the artwork of his patients at a Heidelberg psychiatric hospital in the early 20th century.

 

So is it really a strait jacket? It “depends on who is looking at it” – and I wonder what an textile conservator/historian would have to say – looking at how the thing were made.

 

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Torsolovely — RISEN from the Thread

 

Arthur Bispo do Rosário was a Brazilian psychiatric patient diagnosed with schizophrenia that also became famous for his embroidery. Besides Bispo, there was also a Psychiatric Hospital in Rio that during the 40s had a art studio for the interns. The works of the interns became a exposition in Zurich visited by Carl Jung!

Problem is, my final thought is this: is this really a straitjacket? The sleeves are shaped and short enough for the hands to be free; there are bust darts, and the buttons would pop out of their holes with the slightest strain. I am positive this is just a ladies jacket. But who am I to be totally sure?  I wonder if she were alive today if she would have been given therapy and producing works of art, like this.

 

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… Agnes Richter Tote – by Lambert | by The Knitted Loop… Agnes Richter Tote – by Lambert | by The Knitted Loopv

 

historicalnotes

Perth Courier, January 6, 1899

Sarah Trainor, sent to Perth gaol

Perth Courier, October 14, 1870

Ann Kerr, charges brought by William Murphy, committed as insane

Perth Courier, October 5, 1888

Emeline Ferguson, insane, sent to jail.

The following were some of the most active quilting-embroidery groups in the 1950s, 60s and 70s in Lanark County: From Arlene Stafford Wilson’s piece-Lanark County Quilting Legends – of the 1950s, 60s and 70s

Balderson Women’s Institute

Bethel Women’s Institute

Calvin United Church – Calvinettes, and U.C.W

Drummond Centre Women’s Institute

Elphin community quilters

Flower Station community quilters

Glad Tidings Tabernacle Church, Ladies group, Perth, ON

Harper Women’s Institute

Hopetown community quilters

Innisville – St. John’s Women’s Association

Lanark – Catholic Women’s League

Maberly United Church W.A.

McMartin House, Perth, ON

St. John’s Church Perth – Catholic Women’s League, Perth, ON

Port Elmsley Women’s Institute

Rideau Ferry United Church Women’s Group

Salvation Army Church, Perth, ON

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Women’s Missionary Society, Perth, ON

St. James Anglican Church, Perth, ON

St. Paul’s United Church, Ladies group, Perth, ON

Watson’s Corners U.C.W.

Related reading:

To Be Manic Depressive in a Rural Town — Kingston Insane Asylum

The Insane Spinster Ghost of Appleton Ontario

Want to see more? Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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