Barn Gallery plays “The Mystery of Henry Darger”

The 13th season of “Art Videos at the Gallery” continues Wednesday August 27, 2014 at 7:30 pm with the showing of the film The Mystery of Henry Darger at the Barn Gallery, Bourne Lane at Shore Road in Ogunquit.


Henry Joseph Darger (April 12, 1892—April 13, 1973) was a writer who kept to himself and worked as a custodian in Chicago. He was not known as an artist until after his death when his art work was discovered among his possessions. He was possibly born in Brazil or Germany and lived with his father, who was a tailor and known as a kind man, until 1900 when his crippled father had to be taken to live in the Catholic Mission. At this time, the young Darger was placed in a Catholic boy’s home. His father died in 1905 and his son was placed in an institution for the feeble-minded. After several attempts, he finally managed to escape in 1908 and found employment in a Catholic hospital and in this way supported himself for the next 50 years. He went to Mass daily, sometimes 5 times in a day and dressed shabbily and rarely interacted with other people. In 1930 he found a room on the second floor of Chicago’s north side.

Were he living today, he could be the subject of one of the “Buried Alive” type TV programs as it seems that he saved every piece of trash and junk he came upon. After his death in 1973 his landlord, the photographer Nathan Lerner, was cleaning out the debris from his apartment finding hundreds of Pepto-Bismol bottles, a thousand balls of string, newspapers, magazines, comic books, religious items, and much more. Amid this accumulation of junk and trash, Lerner found 12 huge volumes with 14,000 or some say 19,000 legal-size pages filled with single-spaced typing comprising Henry Darger’s life work. The title of the composition: The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. Darger first wrote this in long hand (taking 11 years) and began typing it in 1912.

But much more important than the composition were the hundreds of watercolors Lerner found that were done to illustrate his work, some done on legal-size sheets, others 3 or 4 feet high and 10 to 12 feet long composed of single sheets glued together. Henry Darger had no training in art and probably never visited a museum but the pictures are colorful and well done. He seemed to have an innate understanding of art and composition. He traced elements from other sources onto his pictures if he felt like it and if the picture he wanted to copy wasn’t the right size to fit in his composition, he took it to a camera shop to be enlarged or reduced in size. His art includes Edwardian interiors, tranquil flowered landscapes including children and fantastic creatures, to scenes of terror depicting children being tortured. Many of his paintings also included collage elements and other mixed media.

Don’t miss this film about this most interesting artist, Henry Darger, presented at the Barn Gallery, Bourne Lane at Shore Road in Ogunquit on Wednesday August 27 at 7:30 pm. The film will be projected onto a full wall-size screen with discussion led by members of the Ogunquit Art Association. The film is shown in a delightful setting amid the exhibition of the art of the Ogunquit Art Association. Admission is free and there is plenty of free parking. Come early to have time to view the art on display.