Visual Arts

Art work by 'Sybil' on display at UK hospital

An exhibit of artwork done by Shirley Mason, aka "Sybil Dorsett", is now on display at UK HealthCare's Albert B. Chandler Hospital in Lexington, Ky., Monday, November 26 2014. Suffering cruel physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother, Mason coped by developing 16 distinct personalities, all which were successfully integrated after working with psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur for more than a decade. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
An exhibit of artwork done by Shirley Mason, aka "Sybil Dorsett", is now on display at UK HealthCare's Albert B. Chandler Hospital in Lexington, Ky., Monday, November 26 2014. Suffering cruel physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother, Mason coped by developing 16 distinct personalities, all which were successfully integrated after working with psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur for more than a decade. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Chandler Hospital is offering a rare glimpse at the artwork created by the traumatized woman who inspired the book and movie, Sybil.

"It is quite interesting," said Jackie Hamilton, director of the Arts in HealthCare program at the hospital. "There are lots of different mediums, lots of aesthetics and styles."

Some of the works are in pen and ink, others in oil, some were done in something that looks like crayon.

The artist was Shirley Mason to her Lexington neighbors. But after she died in 1998, it was discovered that she was the woman known as Sybil Dorsett, the subject of a 1973 book by Flora Rheta Schreiber and a 1976 TV movie starring Sally Field.

The book and movie told a story of Mason's struggle with what is now called dissociative identity disorder. Severe childhood trauma, according to Schreiber, caused her to develop 16 distinctive personalities. Mason was treated by psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur for more than a decade. When Wilbur moved to Lexington to join the psychiatry faculty at the University of Kentucky, Mason followed.

The paintings were purchased at auction by Jim Ballard, who loaned them to UK hospital for the show.

There is still fascination and controversy surrounding the Sybil story, but the artwork is important because artistic expression was used as a means for healing, said Hamilton, who finds many of the works compelling. A series of trees were "particularly haunting," Hamilton said.

When curating the show Hamilton didn't try to match the works to specific personalities; instead she tried to create themes that reflected a chronology. Hamilton is making plans for a public panel to discuss the artworks and art therapy.

The gallery space is located on the ground floor near the hospital chapel and uses about 170 feet of wall space. It is open 24 hours, seven days a week, Hamilton said.

The show, which opened earlier this month, will be up for six months.

Maps of other artwork at the hospital are available at the information desk.

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