Sybil -- The Hidden Paintings

Documentary film created in 2006 in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the 1976 made for TV Movie Sybil, and the 2007 remake by the Lifetime channel.

More videos below.

Hidden... Yet Saved

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 Mankato in the early 1940’s where she wrote numerous articles for the student paper concerning the use of pseudonyms and pen names.  In one article Shirley stated it was the "what" not the "who" that was important, and no artist should put their name on any work or creation that was not their own. Other students may have thought this a curious topic to be so passionate about, but they didn’t know then what we know now about Ms. Mason’s surrealistic reality.  And in a final twist of irony, Shirley Mason, known to the world as Sybil... a pseudonym, is demonstrating that for these particular pieces, it is the "who", and not just the "what" that makes them important.

Trauma and Integration

"...The sensory experience of Mason's art may mirror the relative presence and absence manifest from the inner/outer shifting moments of selfhood, as different aspects of her subjectivity inhabit conscious control.  Rather than visualize difference embedded in the visual forms and styles, as has often been noted, I ask the viewer to suspend such pronouncements.  Instead, reflect upon the freshness of the experience of Mason's art; it is palpable when one confronts, through immersion, the vastness of this project.  For this author the cohesiveness and integrative capacity, the traumatic experiences embedded in the art evoke certainly the stifling effects of splintering, but also much more, the congruent balance between difference, the potential self-acceptance, the healing action of and the promise of self reparation.

Another feeling from the work is a sense of urgency, of profound significance, struggling to be heard, seen and witnessed.  There is a hallucinatory feeling after travelling through her work, again signalling the complex contradictions - the scream of silence and stillness.  I increasingly found myself asking, where is Shirley Mason?   

Mason's art is a living testament to resilience, determination and artistic legacy, in the face of unspeakable trauma. Vigilance pervades the work, searching for understanding, and the elusive comfort, amidst the sadness and poignancy of pain transcribed in every mark, in the affective traces of a hard-fought self-presence.  The disquiet posits on of the enduring threads that permeate Mason's art, giving the viewer access to a reception of the empathic sensory experience of her life..." 

 - Geoffrey Thompson, American Art Therapy Association

Other Videos

Sybil  -  2007 Remake   ( part 1 of 10 )

The Lifetime Channel remake of the movie Sybil included the finding of the hidden paintings in the opening and closing scenes.

The first 1:40 minutes of this video show the finding of the locked cabinet.

Sybil  -  2007 Remake   ( part 10 of 10 )

This final 3 minute segment shows them opening the cabinet and finding the hidden paintings.

Sybil's alternate personalities.

The compilation of scenes from the 2007 remake of the movie Sybil show some of the 15 alternate personalities identified by Dr. Wilbur during therapy.