Documentary Packed in a Trunk Unveils Edith Lake Wilkinson's Lost Art


In 1924, under dubious circumstances, painter Edith Lake Wilkinson was committed to an asylum for the mentally ill. Her paintings were locked away in a trunk, mailed to a relative, and cloistered for 40 years. Now, HBO documentary Packed in a Trunk brushes off the dust and returns Wilkinson’s artwork to daylight.

Wilkinson’s great-niece, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Anderson, co-wrote and produced this documentary as a tribute to her great-aunt and her art. Thanks to Anderson’s mother, who discovered Wilkenson’s paintings, she grew up inspired by her great-aunt’s aesthetic.

“She taught me how to paint,” says Anderson in the trailer.

But their kinship extends beyond art and into a similar rebuke of tradition. Wilkinson lived for years in ostensibly queer companionship with a woman named Fannie Wilkinson, and there is some speculation that her sexuality played a role in her confinement. Anderson’s own freedom to live openly as a lesbian and create as she chooses propelled her to remove the cloak of obscurity covering her great-aunt’s work.

“I’m now in my late fifties, the age when Edith was put away,” says Anderson. “I’m still productive and I’m still loved. I have the life that Edith should have had.”

Packed in a Trunk comes to HBO on July 20, 2015.

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