Published: December 30, 2020
By Greg Smith
NEW YORK CITY— The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) has acquired a diary by outsider artist Henry Darger following its surprise appearance at a Vermont estate auction in December.
After Darger’s death in 1973, the diary was allegedly stolen from his environment—a small apartment in Chicago heaped in medicine bottles, balls of wound nylon rags, a prolific body of writings and works, and other hoarded materials—during a time following the site’s discovery by his landlord, photographer Nathan Lerner, when tours were allowed through the space.
Of his writings, AFAM wrote in a 2008 exhibition, “The magnitude of Darger’s writing is mind boggling: his texts include a six-part weather journal kept daily from 1958 to 1967; several diaries; an autobiography, History of My Life, comprising more than 5,000 pages; Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House, numbering more than 10,000 pages; and his masterful illustrated epic, the 15,000-page Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion (abbreviated as In the Realms of the Unreal).”
Two personal diaries are known from Darger, the rediscovered example being the earliest, dating from March 24, 1968 to February 21, 1969. Chronologically following is a 28-page diary titled Continuation of my Diary, housed in a blue DePaul ring-binder, which spans February 22, 1969 to January 1, 1973.
AFAM already possessed Darger’s second diary in its collection and the recent acquisition makes the account whole. Though Darger spent decades creating his enormous body of work, these diaries provide a glimpse into the final years of his life.
An excerpt from the second diary reads, “Not much Life History until October, when I had an eye operation in the left one because of a serious infection, and was in bed at home until a little before Christmas. I Couldn’t dare go out because of an eye covering for protection placed by the doctor. I had a very poor nothing-like Christmas. Never had a good Christmas all my life, nor a good New Year, and now resenting it. I am very bitter, but fortunately, not revengeful though I feel I should be. Now I am walking the streets again going to mass as usual. What will it be for me for New Years 1972, God only nows. This year was a very bad one, hope not to repeat it for—.”
Darger’s diaries reveal a sense of his mood and doings. The artist was an avid church-goer, at points attending mass multiple times per day. He would write of his “tantrums” and use profanity in the personal writings, which largely touched on his feelings and day-to-day activities.
In a statement, AFAM wrote, “At the American Folk Art Museum, the diary joins the largest repository of material by Henry Darger in the United States. It will provide further opportunities for the interpretation and exploration of one of the most prominent and iconic self-taught artists of the Twentieth Century.”
For more information, www.folkartmuseum.org.
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