In 1862, Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886) of Amherst, Mass., well-established today as one of the most important poets of the American Victorian era, published these enigmatic lines in an untitled poem: “They put me in the Closet — Because they liked me ‘still’ — Still! Could themself have peeped — And seen my Brain go round — They might as wise have lodged a Bird. For Treason — in the Pound.”
Her literary forms, first printed without attribution in Springfield’s Republican newspaper starting in the 1850s, tell the story of a unique perceptive mind.
In the vast and multidimensional exhibition “Steampunk Springfield,” Dickinson’s persona is re-examined through the lens of science-fiction reality. Let’s reconsider her modernist, deeply introspective sentence fragments, not as written by a woman struggling with identity and freedom during the great transitions of the 19th century, but rather by a being who couldn’t help but be eccentric, because she possessed an out-of-this-world, intriguing secret.
Perhaps her self-induced reclusive life and unconventional writing style were not the result of a naturally creative introverted personality, but rather a protective defense against discovery and consequence of her existence as a constructed robot. This Android Emily wrote prose, as would a malfunctioning machine whose logic-board needed a tune-up.
The notion of Dickinson as a mechanical human, a brilliant and humorous consideration, is how artist Xela R. Shultis (Springfield, Mass.), portrays the poet in “Emily Electric,” a painting in illustrative, expressive style showing Dickinson, in her characteristic white dress with the left side of her body partly exposed, in a Victorian-discreet way, to reveal android limbs and electrical eyes.
“Emily Electric” is one of over two-dozen diverse works of art — drawings, sculpture, assemblages, multi- component installations, jewelry and clothing — made by selected artists, including large-scale metal sculpture by New England favorite James Kitchen (Chesterfield, Mass.). The artwork is installed in thematic complement among the history displays throughout the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History as part of “Fifty Firsts.”
J. Fatima Martins