Born in 1923 -
Shirley A. Mason's life story, told under the pseudonym Sybil, garnered international interest and scrutiny in the 1973 national best seller book, "Sybil", written by Flora Schreiber in collaboration with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. A made-for-TV movie by the same title was released in 1976, staring Sally Field as Sybil and Joanne Woodward as Dr. Wilbur. The movie earned Sally Field an Emmy Award for outstanding achievement as an actress.
The story of Shirley Mason is one of a woman who triumphed over incredible odds. Abused by her mother throughout her young life, Shirley's mind protected the innocent child by splitting into various dissociative states or “personalities” to absorb the experience and shield her from the disturbing memories. In all, sixteen personalities were identified over the course of Shirley’s eleven year sojourn through psychotherapy with Dr. Wilbur.
Through the efforts of Dr. Wilbur, coupled with the self determination of this emotionally damaged young woman, all the selves integrated into one, allowing Shirley almost total recall of her life and feelings. And although individual courage and an irresolute determination to get better were the foundation of her recovery, Shirley discovered along the way that creative expression provided an important healing dimension in her struggle to get well.
Shirley Ardell Mason was born January 25, 1923 in
Shirley began undergoing psychotherapy in 1954 with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur who diagnosed her with Multiple Personality Disorder. It was not until two years into her psychotherapy that Dr. Wilbur made Shirley aware of the autonomy and control the sixteen alternate selves had over her.
Shirley received a Master’s degree in Art Education from Columbia University's Teachers College in 1956 and later taught art at Rio Grande College in Ohio, before moving to Lexington, Kentucky in 1974.
Shirley, became a highly regarded and commercially successful artist, signing only those works that she recognized as her own. Other earlier works of art, presumably created by one or more of the alternative selves, were many times not signed or signed by others, providing the only tangible evidence of Shirley’s dissociative states, in which she created art but did not acknowledge the works as her own.
THE HIDDEN PAINTINGS
A cache of 103 paintings were found locked in a closet in the basement of Shirley Mason’s Lexington home, hidden for nearly a quarter century, until they were located shortly after her death in 1998.
These paintings, many of which were unsigned, span the years of 1943, eleven years before starting psychotherapy with Dr. Wilbur, to 1965, the year of her successful integration, and include examples of some of the artwork presumably created by the alternate selves.
Shirley did not put her name on any piece of art that she didn’t recognize as her own. It was a disturbing occurrence for her to enter her studio and find work on the easel of which she had no conscious memory. This must have been an already frequent happening while she was a student at