Diamant noticed something else when he paged through the book: The quality of the works was consistent. There was no "early Deeds" or "late-period Deeds." True, some drawings were better than others — "He definitely had an A-side and a B-side," Diamant quips — but there was no stylistic evolution. Deeds had bound these particular drawings into this particular sequence for a reason.

"His aesthetic is anachronistic," observes Jessica Baran, who writes about visual arts for Riverfront Times. "It's not random. He's being selective in what he portrays and the style. The portraits have a properness. They're all well-dressed and well-groomed, stately: It's a hopeful, dignified portrait of people who aren't famous." Baran notes that many of Deeds' drawings, like pictures created by children, seem to tell a story; a mature artist's work, by contrast, tends to capture a single moment in time.

Nate Larson coordinates the St. Louis Outsider Art Fair and serves as director of the Turner Center for the Arts, which offers art classes to disabled children and adults. "Outsider artists' world visions become more and more encompassing as they become more isolated," Larson says. "You can see [Deeds] become more conscious of his vision — and he stuck to it."

Drawing by Edward Deeds.
Courtesy Harris Diamant & Neville Bean
Drawing by Edward Deeds.
Deeds filled his work with images of his private obsessions — including geography, toy boats, the Civil War and circuses.
Courtesy Harris Diamant & Neville Bean
Deeds filled his work with images of his private obsessions — including geography, toy boats, the Civil War and circuses.

Williams remembers that even when Deeds appeared to be drawing what he saw, he was guided by what Larson calls his "vision." "He was very quick and accurate," she says, "like it was ingrained in his brain exactly how it was to turn out."

Diamant and Bean believe Deeds created this private world in order to cope with the realities of life inside the mental hospital. "It's an unsupported notion," says Diamant, "but I have a theory that the album functioned as a way to comfort him. He went back in time to around 1915, when he was eight years old, a time of comfort and normalcy. It was like a talisman. He was handled pretty roughly, particularly the ECT."

While searching for the identity of the artist, Diamant and Bean compiled a list of names of people, places and other references in the collection. It's likely, they believe, that some of the portraits were of fellow patients and members of the hospital staff. Last year Bean and Diamant visited the Springfield area and were delighted to see landscapes and bridges straight out of the drawings. Because the hospital didn't allow patient furloughs, Deeds never left Nevada between 1936 and 1973. He'd drawn everything from memory.

"One thing that was fascinating was that there's no violence," Bean observes. "Often outsider art has manifestations of the nightmarish torments of the person. It was fascinating to find the 'ECT' reference, but it was very subtle. Also Why Doctor —" a portrait of a supercilious-looking man wearing a top hat — "and the plaintive expressions on the people's faces. It was a haven, a place of escape from what he was going through."

Though they appear in only two of the drawings and aren't at all graphic, the ECT references stand out. Ectlectrc Pencil is one of the most meticulously detailed and colored portraits in the collection, from the feather in the woman's hat to the flowers in her fist. Deeds emblazoned "ECTLECTRC" in outsize letters across the top like a title, not below like a caption, as in most of his other drawings. Throughout the collection Deeds' spelling is erratic — "Rucian" for Russian, "Dixey" for Dixie — but the "ECT"s are clearly no accident. He was making a statement. What that statement was remains a mystery.


In the late 1950s, State Hospital No. 3 moved from electroshock toward sedation. A centennial report prepared in 1987 notes that Dr. Paul Barone, the institution's superintendent during the 1960s, "reports that with the help of tranquilizers many noisy, screaming, combative clients were changed almost overnight to quiet, orderly people."

Medical records show that Edward Deeds underwent his first drug treatments in 1968: chlorpromazine (Thorazine) for schizophrenia and benztropine mesylate (Cogentin), an antiparkinsonian medication, to control body tremors. The following year his doctor added imipramine (Tofranil) for depression. By 1972 Deeds' official diagnosis had been altered to "mentally retarded." A social worker notes in an official report from that year that "[h]e is undemanding and doesn't want people giving him too much attention. Usually sits quietly in a chair."

Having pronounced Deeds docile and no longer a danger to those around him, Barone recommended that he be discharged. His mother was too debilitated from arthritis to care for him, and his sisters were too busy with their farms. In an interview with the hospital social worker, Martaun Deeds explained that Clay was chronically ill (he had diabetes) and that between two working parents, three adolescents in the house and another daughter who'd returned home with her own two kids after a divorce, the household was too chaotic to take in her brother-in-law. She also felt it would be unsafe to leave Edward alone with the children.

Instead Deeds was transferred in January 1973 to the Christian County Rest Home, a nursing home in Ozark now called Ozark Riverview Manor. He lived there until 1987, when he died of a heart attack at age 79, having outlived four of his siblings (and both parents). His remains were interred in the family plot in Ozark Cemetery. State Hospital No. 3, later renamed the Nevada Habilitation Center, was torn down in 1999. At the time, Dodi Chew recalls, all the artworks that had been created by the patients and hung on the hospital's walls were destroyed.

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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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