All patients, regardless of diagnosis, received ECT twice a week. One at a time, they were strapped to a table with electrodes attached to their heads, given a piece of rubber to bite down on and "jolted." The procedure typically left burns and bruises. There was no anesthesia. The idea was to temporarily erase patients' memories so they could go through what Prideaux called "emotional re-education" and eliminate "thoughts and actions which are abnormal and detrimental."

Given current medical standards, the practice seems medieval, but at the time, ECT was on the cutting edge of psychological treatment methods, and for some patients it worked. "After the treatment," Prideaux wrote, "most cases seem noticeably clearer in their thinking and less troubled by delusions and depression."

Clay and Martaun Deeds, accompanied by Clara and a few of their children, made the 90-minute drive to Nevada to visit Deeds at least once a month. (Within the family, "I'm going to Nevada" came to mean "I'm going crazy.") They'd bring a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon on the grounds. They tried to time the visits so they wouldn't coincide with the ECT, but they didn't always manage it.

The main building of State Hospital No. 3 in Nevada was torn down in 1999. But the outbuildings remain -- some have been converted into college classrooms and senior housing -- and it's still possible to see how the facility used to be a working farm.
Aimee Levitt
The main building of State Hospital No. 3 in Nevada was torn down in 1999. But the outbuildings remain -- some have been converted into college classrooms and senior housing -- and it's still possible to see how the facility used to be a working farm.

"Right after he had his treatments, he'd be in a zombie state," remembers Tudie Williams, who was a little girl at the time. "My dad led him around and set him down. My mom would get him something to eat. He couldn't focus. He couldn't draw. All he could do was say a few words. He had burns and sores on his forehead. I'd ask my mom, 'Did he fall?'"

A photo of Deeds taken in 1958, when he was 50, shows a man with wide, deep-set eyes, a soft crumpled nose and narrow lips, not unlike a figure from one of his own drawings. Deep lines had been etched into his forehead and between his brows. Whatever had inspired him to run exuberantly around the wards when he arrived in Nevada in 1936 had been jolted out of him. Williams remembers a very quiet and withdrawn man who hated to be touched. He liked to eat (he would amaze and disgust his nieces and nephews by cramming entire bananas into his mouth), and he smoked incessantly. Sometimes he'd laugh at a story Clay told him or mutter under his breath.

"He looked so sad and forlorn when we would get ready to leave," Williams recalls. "It was so sad — as a child that was the only word I could think of to use."


In 1953 Harry Chew, a painter and art professor at Cottey College in Nevada, began working with hospital patients two evenings a week, practicing an incipient form of art therapy. One of his students produced an oil painting of St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illness, that won a blue ribbon at the state fair and remains on display at Nevada's Bushwhacker Museum. But Chew's widow, Dodi, doesn't recall her husband ever mentioning Edward Deeds. "I don't think he took lessons," she says. "He just did his own thing."

Deeds' mother bought him colored pencils at Kresge's five-and-dime, and someone at the hospital kept him supplied with tablets of outdated ledger paper. During family visits, while the adults talked and the children ran around and played on the grounds, he would sit with his pencils and paper and work with fierce concentration, ignoring all the noise and chatter around him. Little Tudie Williams liked to draw, too, and sometimes she would sit with him while he worked.

"One day he said, 'Draw a rainbow,'" she recalls. "I got my crayons and drew. What I drew was very visceral, with brilliant color, very firm. He said, 'That's not a rainbow. Rainbows are fluffy. It's like this—' and then he drew a rainbow. It's the one in the book. Since then I've realized rainbows are fluffy: That's truly what a person sees."

Williams watched him sketch landscapes. Clara Deeds would bring him copies of National Geographic, and Deeds would copy pictures he liked. The hospital housed a decent-size library of books and periodicals, and by the late 1950s there were television sets in the common areas. So images from the outside world found their way into Deeds' drawings. Some of the portraits, though, were likely inspired closer to home. Julie Phillips is fairly sure that Miss Martin and Anney are her mother Martaun and her sister Lyanne.

While the drawings are naturalistic in style, they'd never be mistaken for realism. For one thing, as Phillips notes, "My sister Annie had long hair, but I don't think she had yellow eyes." Moreover, all the characters in the portraits wear fashions that date back to Deeds' childhood or earlier. The animals, particularly the lions and tigers, evoke a gentleness that would not have shown up in National Geographic.

"They're very stylized, but they're not abstractions," says artist and designer Neville Bean, Harris Diamant's wife. "They have personalities. You feel their presence." The machines — ships, cars, locomotives — look like playthings; several of the boats even have little loops drawn on one end, as though the artist envisioned them as a child's pull-toys.

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6 comments
albrechtschnabel
albrechtschnabel

Thank you for the wonderful article! To me, it shows how *hard* life was as a very sensitive young man with a brutal, non-understanding father about 80 years ago. Sad life, in some ways, and still, now he has found some very-late recognition, and his soul, likely, will be happy about the late recognition, maybe. - Albrecht Schnabel Munich.

asfleming1
asfleming1

Great article! Sounds like Deeds' work would fit right in at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

AliceWonderRed
AliceWonderRed

@aimeelevitt Loved your article #longread @anniezaleski

aimeelevitt
aimeelevitt

@AliceWonderRed @anniezaleski Thank you so much!

 
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