Myrllen's Coat

Catherine Heard


In 1948, a schizophrenic woman admitted to the Eastern State Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, began shredding rags into coloured thread and begging hospital staff to give her a sewing needle. In the space of seven years, she created several garments, densely embroidered with images and glossolalic text. Ward notes dismissively summarized, “She sews without purpose…is non-productive”. In 1955 she was medicated with the newly developed drug, chlorpromazine, and stopped sewing. Over the years, most of the works were lost –– along with the medical records of their creator, who is known by the pseudonym, “Myrllen”. Today, only two artifacts remain: a scarf, which hangs in Lakeshore Mental Health Center in Knoxville; and a coat, preserved in the Tennessee State Museum. My research is the first academic study of these artifacts, which are virtually unknown outside of Tennessee and Maryland.


embroidery, Outsider Art, Art by the Insane, Asylum art

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