An HCRR Foundations grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will be used for the formative stage of efforts to preserve, digitize, and ensure wider access to the Henry Darger Papers, which will lend a greater understanding to a complex and enigmatic artist whose writings and art display ingenious creativity at the heart of interdisciplinary study in the humanities.
The American Folk Art Museum is the home to the single largest public repository of artworks and writings by Henry Darger (1892–1973), one of the most significant self-taught artists of the twentieth century. Darger’s large-scale, double-sided watercolor paintings are critically acclaimed and held in many prestigious collections around the world. Lesser known is the artist’s extensive writing activity, highly connected with his visual practice.
All of Darger’s manuscripts are in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum, including his autobiography and several epic novels, the most famous being 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, which exceeds 15,000 pages. The manuscripts and other papers in the collection have never been published. Their fragile condition makes their access difficult, as it necessitates minimal handling.
With this grant, the American Folk Art Museum plans to complete a conservation survey; convene an advisory board with Darger scholars and museum colleagues to strategically determine which materials will be digitized; identify the best web platform possible to communicate the scope of his oeuvre; solicit advice from copyright and technical specialists to determine how to digitize the fragile materials; and consult with digital humanities experts. The result of the planning process will be a white paper report that will 1) guide decision making for preserving and creating access to the Darger Papers, 2) describe technical requirements for future digitization, and 3) make recommendations for future conservation.
Henry Darger (1892–1973), At battle of Drosabellamaximillan. Seeing Glandelinians retreating Vivian girls grasp christian banners, and lead charge against foe (double-sided), Chicago, mid-twentieth century, watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper, 19 × 47 3/4″, American Folk Art Museum purchase © Kiyoko Lerner, 2002.22.1B. Photo by James Prinz.