Edith Lake Wilkinson

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The life of 19th century American artist Edith Lake Wilkerson was little known to the world, until revealed in the 2015 released documentary film, Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson, a film co-written by Edith’s great-niece, Jane Anderson. This film is how I, too, became aware of Edith and her extraordinary body of work, consisting of paintings, charcoal drawings, sketches, and woodblock prints.

Edith was born in 1868, in Wheeling, West Virginia. She was the daughter of an accountant and Civil War, Union army veteran, James P. Wilkinson, and Scottish-born art teacher, Lucy Lake Atkinson. At age twenty, Edith began formal art classes at the Art Students League, in New York City, and advanced her skills and talent under the guidance of instructors J. Carroll Beckwith, Kenyon Cox and William Merritt Chase. Several years later, she enrolled for courses at Teachers College at Columbia University, majoring in Fine Arts, where she studied with notable artist Arthur Wesley Dow. During this time, Edith moved into an apartment, in the neighboring Morningside Heights area, which she shared with her partner Fannie Wilkinson (not related).

For the next ten years, beginning in 1914, with Fannie at her side, Edith spent the next nine years living in both Boston, and the artists’ colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The art works originated during this period, consisted of sketches, paintings and wood prints, and reflected an evolution in style and palette. Then, in 1924, Edith’s life shifted dramatically. Tragically, for most of the next 33 years she is institutionalized for mental illness. Consequently, her wonderful art work was “packed away” in trunks, stored in an attic, and lost for 40 years, as was her story. Edith died in 1957, still institutionalized.

In researching Edith’s life for a genealogy project, I was delighted to discover we are related. After creating a profile page and connecting her to the World Family Tree on the genealogy website, Geni.com, I checked to see if she and I have a direct link. And, yes, through a common pair of  distant great-grandparents, we are 26th cousins, once removed. The link begins with my Kincaid ancestors from Edinburg, Scotland, and their descendants who ended up in Missouri, via Kentucky and Albemarle County, Virginia. From Scotland and the U.K., Edith’s ancestors crossed the ocean, settled in Plymouth Colony (now Massachusetts), and from there migrated to Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

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