Electric Pencil in the NYTimes


Four years ago Harris Diamant, a sculptor and art dealer in New York, bought an album cobbled together from early-1900s invoices for services rendered. The service provider was a mental hospital in Nevada, Mo. The lined pages are stamped “Board of Patients Must Be Paid in Advance.”

On about 140 sheets, an unidentified artist, probably a patient, drew eagles, saw blades, chairs, wide-eyed men and women, garden plans, circus menageries and railroad engines with headlights protruding on wires.

One drawing has a misspelled title, “ectlectrc pencil,” so Mr. Diamant hypothesizes that the artist called himself the “electric pencil”. More than that he has not been able to determine, despite consultations with historians and a detective.

The album had turned up in 1970 in a trash heap in Springfield, Mo. It was about to be broken up on eBay when Mr. Diamant bought it for an undisclosed sum. After futilely trying to persuade a museum or collector to keep it intact, Mr. Diamant will start selling the sheets for $12,000 each at the Outsider Art Fair, next Friday through Feb. 13 in New York.

Mr. Diamant has published a book, “The Drawings of the Electric Pencil,” and is still puzzling over them. Why is a chef named “Thoes. Gingr. Snaps” and a man in a bowler hat labeled “Went Democratic”? The artist hand-numbered the pages, but did he or she want them kept in order?

“Perhaps there is a narrative,” Mr. Diamant said, “but I can’t read it.”

This is an excerpt from Eve Kahns article  “Elvis and Toreadors, Aglow on Black Velvet”


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