These fascinating images show abandoned suitcases which belonged to patients who were residents of the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane between the 1910s and early 1960s. The institution stored the cases when patients passed away; when it closed in 1995, staff came across the forgotten cases, and thoughtfully gave them to the New York State Museum for preservation. This incredible collection was featured in a recent article by Hunter Oatman-Stanford on Collectors Weekly, in which he provocatively asks: “If you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you’d ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you?”
The suitcases were photographed by Jon Crispin as part of a larger artistic project documenting abandoned mental hospitals. However, in the context of the Collectors Weekly article, these fascinating suitcases were presented first and foremost as museum or personal objects, and only secondarily as contemporary art images. (Oatman-Stanford does, however, go on to conduct a very interesting article with Crispin about the Willard institution and its patients, which you can read here). This is probably unsurprising considering the slant of the publication, but it nonetheless brings up an interesting blurriness between museum object, artwork, so-called ‘outsider art’ and personal possessions.
Each suitcase is, itself, almost like a mini museum about the owner: a small collection which can give you a glimpse into his or her life and interests. Of course, they were not compiled for this reason, but I think that just paints an even more alluring portrait of the person and what their objects might say about them.
// All images by Jon Crispin, from Collectors Weekly