Because I am so fascinated by this subject, I chose to continue my research for my senior project. I created my own characters, based on real women who were diagnosed with hysteria. I chose to portray each one as a doll, which emphasizes the fact that these women were seen as helpless, powerless and exploitable. For my final display, each doll will be housed in a glass bell jar, reflecting the incarceration experienced by these women.
Making an environment for the figures was crucial. I found and collected bottles, keys, and various objects to be displayed with the figures. Re-creating authentic looking medicine bottles was important – the 19th century was a time when medical quackery went generally unnoticed. Many of these medications were either placebos, while others were addictive and harmful sedatives, such as laudanum, which is essentially opium and morphine.
By both researching and imagining what these doctors observed and documented, I also created a record book. Within these pages are sketches of hysterical episodes, patient notes and medical procedures. I placed myself in the role of both the women and the doctors who treated them in order to create this collection. All of these items serve as a backdrop and support the narrative behind each figure and to give the viewer a glimpse of what it was like to be an “hysterical” women in the Victorian era.
Kiah Gardner is an illustrator currently living and working in Portland, ME. She has a BFA in Illustration with a minor in Art History from Maine College of Art. When not at home in her studio, you can usually find her at The Joanne Waxman Library or taking her dog for a walk around the city.
1. Camille, 2014, Polymer clay, wool, cloth, lace & watercolor, 12 inches
2. Vanessa, 2014, Polymer clay, wool, cloth, lace & watercolor, 12 inches
3. Anna, 2014, Polymer clay, wool, cloth, lace & watercolor, 12 inches
4. Objects of Hysteria, 2014, Glass bottles, keys, lace handkerchief, doctor’s bag
5. The Doctor’s Record Book”, 2014, Paper, ink