The Hidden Paintings
of Shirley A. Mason...  Sybil

Hidden Paintings  

     AQUATIC  FORMS  # 1     -     11.00" x 7.25"

This painting was entitled Blue is the Color of Love when printed in the book Sybil, however written on the back of the original painting is "Aquatic Forms #1, Shirley A. Mason”.  This writing, along with the original signature on the front of the painting was covered by tape. It is thought this was in order to conceal her identity when publishing for the book. By doing this, she not only covered her signature, but also the original title of the painting.
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     BALLERINAS     -     13.00" x  15.00"

This literal rendering of a ballet performed on stage is unsigned but probably done at the same time as the signed abstract Ballet (102).  The abstract’s inspiration appears to be the same scene as “Ballerinas”.
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     BALLET # 102     -     14.00" x 10.00"

Painted and signed in 1964, the hand-written notation that was taped to the back of the original painting is recounted below.

"This amuses me – a friend & I went to a ballet – I was much impressed by the whole thing & did several pieces after I got home – this was one – girl stood like this with blue curtains & violet spotlight – Well, after I did this, my friend looked so puzzled & said ‘I saw the same ballet you did & I don’t remember anything like that!’ – (She was a Home Ec. Ph.D.)”.
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     BLUE IS THE COLOR OF LOVE     -     9.75" x 12.50"


The painting titled Aquatic Forms #1 was apparently incorrectly identified in the book, Sybil, as Blue is the Color of Love.   This painting was discussed in the book, but it was only after the handwritten title was discovered on the back of the original work, that this painting was identified as Blue is the Color of Love.
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     BROOKLYN BRIDGE     -     8.50" x 8.00"

"Unsettling, the encapsulating of disparate forms, togehter in an uneasy alliance - the pluralistic self perhaps - enclosed and bound, as in the original ego, the skin."   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association
 
The date of this signed work is unknown, but it presumably was painted while Ms. Mason lived in New York (1954-1966), and was under Dr. Wilbur's care.  On the back of the original is the following note  -  "Brooklyn Bridge from C Rooftop - 10 stories up."  Again, it is presumed she meant Dr. Condelia ("C") Wilbur's apartment roof.   As in some of her other pieces, one can see the crosses and/or telephone poles in the background.

 
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     CENTRAL PARK IN SPRING     -     9.25" x 5.25"

This light and airy work is the view of New York’s Central Park from Dr. Wilbur’s office window on the 32nd floor of Rockefeller Center. This piece was probably completed sometime near the end of Ms. Mason’s psychotherapy, which concluded in 1965.
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     ENTRAPMENT     -     17.00" x 22.25

This unsigned original is an oil painted in art class while Ms. Mason was a student at Mankato State Teachers College in 1943.  The bleak village scene is grim and lifeless.  The trees are gnarled and close in on the scene, projecting a feeling of being trapped.  Notice the building in the lower center-right.  It has no windows or doors – a crypt maybe?  And, why is there a fence around it?
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     THE FAMILY     -     14.00" x 9.50"

This rare print, copies of which were found among the Hidden Paintings collection, is one of two prints that were produced by Shirley Mason and Dr. Cornelia Wilbur to capitalize on the phenomenal success of the 1973 book Sybil.  Painted in shades of gray, with pastel chalk later superimposed on the work,  Dr. Wilbur pointed to this work as an example of how buried feelings can emerge in art form.  A copy of the analysis Dr. Wilbur wrote about the piece was found along with the copies of the print.
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     FISHERMAN     -     10.75" x 14.00"

The boats that Ms. Mason and the alternate selves painted were not always sitting in the water.  In this painting, one boat floats above the surface of the water, one sits in the water and one boat is partly submerged.
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     GROCERY CORNER     -     11.75" x 19.75"

"Impossible spaces, odd precipices, that even with the familiar schemas, still cannot offset the diquiet; the strangeness, the central form, again enclosed within a perimeter."   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

The undated original is signed on both the front and back by Ms. Mason.  It was as if she were affirming that indeed this art was hers.  As in many of the other pieces, the cross-like telephone poles are evident, one in the front left corner and others in the back right, which seem to be receding and are less prominent.

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     HELL     -     6.25" x 11.50"

"Disproportionate violence speaks, breaking taboo silence."   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

This stark, unsigned piece was probably completed before Ms. Mason began her psychotherapy in 1954.   The images suggest parental figures closing in on the unprotected child.   The suggestion of an island conveys a sense of no possible escape while the foreboding cloud closes in from above.  Isolation within a threatening world is recurrent in the early works of Ms. Mason and the alternative selves.
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      IMPRESSION OF ASPENS     -     13.00" x 13.75"

"Dark expressive and powerful, dislocated forms adrift in abivalent space."   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

The original is signed twice by Ms. Mason… once on the artwork and again on the mat.  This piece was completed in 1945, the same year that she met Dr. Wilbur, who was to be her lifelong therapist.  In this painting, the threatening, lifeless trees rise into a frightening sky as if screaming for help.  Ms. Mason felt trapped in a bleak world where she did not understand her time lapses and blackouts, or why she often found art in her studio that she did not create.
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     IMPRESSION OF PORT ARTHUR     -     12.25" x 17.50"

This signed original was painted by Ms. Mason while at Mankato State Teachers College.  Ms. Mason entered this water color, along with The Wash in the Society of Liberal Arts six-state exhibit at the Joslyn Memorial gallery in Omaha, Nebraska in 1945 – receiving recognition for both.  It is unknown as to what cause her to want to represent the town, as there is no evidence that Ms. Mason, ever visited or lived in Port Arthur, Texas.
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     INTERIOR     -     7.50" x 7.50"

"Open and closed posits the impossibility of disconnected forms - claustrophobic anxiety and falling forms - danger surrounds the unsuspecting cat."   - Geoffrey  Thompason, American Art Therapy Association

This piece was signed “Interior, Mason ‘45” on the mat.  Open and closed posits the impossiblity of disconnected forms, claustrophobic anxienty and falling forms, as danger surrounds the unsuspecting sleeping cat.  At first glance, Interior is deceptively simple, yet suggests the young artist’s terror of closed places.  Closer inspection gives insight into what Ms. Mason really meant by the title she chose.  In this piece, the open dark drawer suggests a coffin.  This was Ms. Mason’s dichotomy.  Outwardly, she appeared to be normal.  However, on the interior, from both mental and physical abuse of being locked in, she was far from normal.  Notice how the lamp on the bureau is off balance.

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     INTERPRETATION OF FALKIRK FORESTS     -     13.25" x 14.25"

"Searching tree limbs and strong trees yield against an invisble force - the insubstantial ground appears to float."
   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

This view of Falkirk Forest in New York was painted while Ms. Mason was an art therapist at the Falkirk Institute, a mental hospital bordering the forest.  At some later date, Ms. Mason must have decided that the painting was done by the alternative self Marcia, and she crudely labeled the piece with her name.

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     THE LABORATORY     -     6.00" x 4.75"

"Dark, ominous and destructive forms - configures the spectacle fo unspeakable torture.  How can the incomprehensible pain stop?"
   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

Possibly drawn during the time Ms. Mason was a student at Mankato State University in the 1940’s.  While probably inspired by an actual classroom setting, it is eerily reminiscent the kitchen in Ms. Mason’s home which was the location of much of the horrific abuse suffered at her mother’s hand as a child.  Note the prominence of the naked light bulb, unlikely in a classroom, which was one of the many objects used in attacks on Ms. Mason by her mother.

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     THE NEIGHBORS     -     12.00" x 17.50"

This rare print, copies of which were found among the Hidden Paintings collection, signed Mary, is one of two prints that were produced by Shirley Mason and Dr. Cornelia Wilbur to capitalize on the phenomenal success of the book SybilThe Neighbors depicts Shirley and her mother, along with Danny – her childhood friend – and his mother.  A copy of the analysis Dr. Wilbur wrote about the piece was found along with copies of the print.
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     PINK FLAGS     -     22.50" x 16.25"

The story of this work in chalk is recounted in the book, Sybil.  Ms. Mason awoke at 4:45 AM on August 8, 1964, with “Peggy feelings” and completed the work the same day.  The fact that “Pink Flags” was written on the back, Peggy’s choice of names, and that it is unsigned, it is presumed that Ms. Mason decided that this work was done by Peggy.  The co-consciousness that Ms. Mason experienced with the “Peggy feelings” was a transitional phase toward Ms. Mason’s integration of the “selves”.
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     RAGE     -     8.75" x 10.00"

"Bleeding forms, enclosures, brilliance and power all contribute to the intense drama that remains tantalizingly out of reach."
    - Goeffry Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

Signed S. Mason, Rage was probably completed prior to Ms. Mason’s psychotherapy, and is a raw expression of the tremendous emotional pressure she must have experienced.  The title “Rage” is scrawled across the back of the original in pencil.  Rage is a raw expression of the tremendous emotional pressure she experienced. 
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     SAILING SHIP     -     10.00" x 13.00"

One of the many images of boats, this abstract was possibly also done by Peggy, again notice the mast that look a lot like telephone polls.
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     STREET CORNER     -     13.125" x 7.375"

"The body contested - grace and eloquence embedded in desires destroyed."  
   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

This dreamlike work of masked dancers is unsigned and the date of the work is unknown.  The artist, presumably on the alternate selves entitled the piece Street Corner, which is written in black pen on the back of the original.  Note the figures have no mouths or hands.

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     TALL MASTS     -     15.75" x 10.25"

"Collapsed forms cohesive within the fragmentation - calm within the maelstorm of impossibly falling planes."
   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

Unsigned.  The composition of this piece is remarkably similar to Pink Flags.  Boats were a common image among the works of Ms. Mason and the alternate selves.  Arguably, boats were images depicting a means of possible escape for Mason who sought relief from a world of isolation, entrapment and pain.

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     THE WASH     -     13.00" x 13.75"

This watercolor, is dated 1944 but is unsigned.  Completed the year before Ms. Mason first met Dr. Wilbur, it is presumably of Ms. Mason’s mother, Mattie Mason, hanging out the wash to dry in their back yard in Dodge Center.  Ms. Mason entered this water color, along with Impression of Port Arthur in the Society of Liberal Arts six-state exhibit at the Joslyn Memorial gallery in Omaha, Nebraska in 1945 – receiving recognition for both.
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      WOODBLOCK     -     12.50" x 17.00"

"Volatile windswept landscape; the battered houses once again form trapped, bound and imprisoned - pluralistic self posited as one as defensible structure."   - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

This unique work was produced by the hand carving of a woodblock, which meant that the carving was done in the reverse image.    The image conveys a familiar theme of an unsafe world and isolation as a means of protection.  Mike, one of Ms. Mason’s alternate selves, who was a woodworker and one of two male alternates, probably did the carving, with the “M” in corner as his signature.
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