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Henry Darger

The American Folk Art Museum is the largest public repository of Henry Darger’s oeuvre. This treasured collection amassed from gifts and purchases beginning in 1995 reveals the magnitude of the artist’s mastery of expression, and the scope of his creative process. Lesser-known are these collages that he surrounded himself with, originally pinned on the door and walls of his modest room located at 851 Webster Avenue in Chicago. These carefully selected images of children—mostly suggesting vulnerability, innocence, and fear—from newspapers, coloring books, and magazines seem to operate as daily performative presences in the visual storyboard for Darger’s art-making and literary practice.

 

Darger’s obsession with children can be read from the standpoint of the dramatic experiences that fueled his childhood, but also from a critical stance on their problematic representation. This symbolic appropriation is pervasive in Darger’s entire oeuvre. AFAM’s collection is comprised of his double-sided scroll-like watercolors (originally bounded into three large scrapbooks composed of over 300 sheets), character studies surrounded with texts, sketches, source materials, personal records and library, and unpublished manuscripts. Among them are a 5,084-page autobiography titled The History of My Life; a six-volume weather report journal dated 1957 to 1967; a 15,145-page epic that echoes events of the American Civil War titled 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 started in 1910-1912 after he escaped the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children and finalized around 1938–39; a large planning journal in which Darger kept track of thousands of characters, battles, deaths, and events related to the previous fastidious novel; and a 10,531-page novel titled Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House started in 1939-1940.