There are a lot of things you can discover in an attic. People, for better or for worse, keep most everything. Whether they ever look back on it is another story completely, but when it came to award-winning writer Jane Anderson, growing up surrounded by artwork of her lost great aunt Edith was always the most memorable aspect of her childhood, with Anderson claiming that Edith taught her how to draw. A personal and moving journey of a woman’s life lost to time, Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson plays out like a murder mystery being revealed for the first time and, like a kid on Christmas morning, director Michelle Boyaner and co-writer Jane Anderson happen upon some treasure.
Anderson’s great aunt was Edith Lake Wilkinson. As an artist, she spent a lot of time in the very artsy community of Provincetown in Massachusetts. She had a female companion named Fannie who lived with her in New York. Edith came from a well-off family and after a back and forth with a family lawyer, she is committed to a mental institution in 1924 at the age of 57 and never heard from again. This is where the film begins and immediately pulls you in. It’s a mystery unfolding itself before your eyes.
Jane Anderson, who has been trying to get Edith’s story out there since the ’70s, takes center stage. She is our go-to guide about everything Edith and the film is a mystery waiting to be solved. As every scene transpires, we get to know Edith more and more as she is given life through Anderson’s eyes. Michelle Boyaner takes great care to take the viewers on a journey through time and as Jane discovers new facts about her great aunt, so do we. The documentary is very personal, one that wouldn’t have been had it not been for Anderson’s on-camera presence.
The film doesn’t falter in its storytelling, choosing to go back and forth between resurrecting Edith’s personal history and Anderson’s journey to get Edith’s artwork shown in galleries and getting people interested in her work. The film is introspective, allowing us to be privy to the unsolved mysteries that are now being brought into the light. Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson is intriguing, touching, sad, and hopeful all at once.