Google the name Edith Wilburn and you find images of smiling elderly homemakers and tombstones, and write ups about a few Edith Wilburns: Edith the Pharmacist, an Edith Wilburn therapist, and the 1990 high school graduate. There is no mention of Edith Wilburn the artist, a woman who was institutionalized at the age of 19, and from that point on was placed under the care of others. She had a brother, he was also disabled and cared for by others, he lived somewhere in California and probably died somewhere there too.

Edith was born in 1927; we do not know where. She started attending the Short Center in 1979 and continued at DDSO programs until a few years before her death in 2004. Through the years Edith worked with many artist instructors at the Short Center North, in the early years this included Rory Nakata, Bill Petersen, Mary Stoschke, and Matt Rhoades and later with Stephanie Skalisky, Kim Scott and with Steve Vanoni, who was her favorite staff member. Because of Steve Edith’s work has been in many exhibitions locally and has also been shown at the Ames Gallery in Berkeley and the Outsider Arts Fair in New Your City.

She could be quite charming, especially to male staff, showing off her costume jewelry rings that she always wore and her quarters and dimes which she said she had won at her recent trip to Reno. She was always appeared stylish with bright colored lipstick and matching fingernails. Although she looked like a sweet elderly lady she had no trouble informing you that she was going to kick so-and-so’s ass and shaking her bejeweled fist in defiance.

Edith’s art reflects her vitality and liveliness. Her work is alive with color and movement, and in her work she has created a world of beings that live in a jumble of pastel and pencil. The way in which she completely fills the space is charming but at the same time intricate. Patterns of small squares are contained by larger squares that fill up circles – there is no room for white paper. She sometime layers her compositions quite artfully and with purpose – in “Garden” a fence made of turquoise triangles is necessary to view the comprehensive scene that takes place in the drawing; it grounds our eyes and divides the sky and earth. Whether intentional not her use of shapes give movement to her art and sometimes a sense of perspective – in “Spider” all her curved rows of colored squares meet at a point located behind a gigantic eyebrowed insect; a fish is camouflaged into a background of swirling columns of colored squares in “Invisible Fish”; and in “Scene with a House” her drawing takes on a dizzying aerial view of a children’s board game comprised of morphing shapes, complete with a flayed gingerbread house. If Candyland exists it would resemble an Edith Wilburn village of lemonhead creatures, off-kilter gingerbread houses, and a patchwork of gumdrop stepping-stones.

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