Lost and Found: An Exhibition of Outsider Art Explores the Mystery of Harry and Edna

When Chicago-based photographer and artist Jeff Phillips purchased 30 boxes of Kodachrome colored slides at a St. Louis thrift shop, little did he know what he’d find or where it would lead him. After going through 499 of the unmarked slides, he still had no clue of who the couple might be.  Finally on the 500th slide, he saw a hand scrawled name, “Edna,” written with a pencil on the cardboard slide mount.

Enda in Pink Ball Gown

Edna in Pink Dress

Some time later, as Phillips continued through the slides, he found a slide of a man posing with group of women interlocked like a chain gang, all standing by a blue Cadillac. The inscription was “Harry, 1958.”  Mystery solved? Not for Phillips who was looking for a lot more.  Still no last names. No location.

As Phillips continued to probe further into the slides, he became more entangled in the mystery of this couple’s past.  Who were these everyday people who lived extraordinary lives, frequented fancy parties, traveled the world…and loved to take pictures of themselves, he wondered. Why were their portraits abandoned?

Harry2Lawn Chair

 Harry in Lawn Chair

Now, at least a half a century later, their life journey had become an obsession for Phillips. He had to find out who they were, where they came from and if they had a family.

edna2cypressspringsThe quest for answers became a Facebook page asking: “Is This Your Mother?”  The number of visitors to the page grew creating a disparate search party of amateur genealogists and online sleuths.

The story and social media aspect of “Lost and Found” makes for a unique exhibition of photography that offers beauty, humor, and mystery.

The slice-of-life photos, mostly from the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s, provide a “snapshot” of the times, the styles and life itself–literally shouting out how things have changed.

The exhibit offers some “food for thought”  pondering the question staring viewers in the face–when are the lives of “everyday” people truly forgotten? When the last photographs of them are gone, is that the moment when they are forgotten?

“Lost and Found: The Search for Harry and Edna” opens May 9 at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (756 N. Milwaukee Avenue). The exhibition continues through August 30, 2014 with a free opening night reception on May 9 from 5 to 8 p.m.  312 243 9088. For more information, click here.

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