In 1924, under dubious circumstances, painter Edith Lake Wilkinson was committed to an asylum for the mentally ill. Her paintings were locked away in a trunk, mailed to a relative, and cloistered for 40 years. Now, HBO documentary Packed in a Trunk brushes off the dust and returns Wilkinson’s artwork to daylight.

Wilkinson’s great-niece, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Anderson, co-wrote and produced this documentary as a tribute to her great-aunt and her art. Thanks to Anderson’s mother, who discovered Wilkenson’s paintings, she grew up inspired by her great-aunt’s aesthetic.

“She taught me how to paint,” says Anderson in the trailer.

But their kinship extends beyond art and into a similar rebuke of tradition. Wilkinson lived for years in ostensibly queer companionship with a woman named Fannie Wilkinson, and there is some speculation that her sexuality played a role in her confinement. Anderson’s own freedom to live openly as a lesbian and create as she chooses propelled her to remove the cloak of obscurity covering her great-aunt’s work.

“I’m now in my late fifties, the age when Edith was put away,” says Anderson. “I’m still productive and I’m still loved. I have the life that Edith should have had.”


Packed in a Trunk comes to HBO on July 20, 2015.

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