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Deborah Berger, Untitled (white and taupe mask), Gift of the Art Council of New Orleans

Deborah Berger


Deborah Berger was born with autism in New Jersey in 1956. She attended residential schools for special-needs children in Pennsylvania and Texas, and graduated from Middlesex County Community College in New Jersey. Berger learned needlework while still a young child, and was soon a prodigy. Before she was ten, she was able to create not only all her own clothing, but toys, games, and complex sculptural forms from yarn.

As an adult, Berger was high-functioning enough to live on her own and keep an apartment in New Orleans, but she never held a regular job. She was often in trouble with the police for disruptive or inappropriate behavior in public. Most of her income came from her relatives, supplemented by work as a nude model for artists. A loner, she continued to knit and crochet throughout her life, developing an extensive wardrobe of colorful, idiosyncratic pieces in a style all her own, as well as a large collection of masks and mask designs drawn on paper.

Deborah Berger, detail: Untitled (Hobby Horse), Gift of the Art Council of New Orleans

After Berger died in 2005, her family discovered that her living space was filled with her works, and they donated a large selection of her art to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). When NOMA was not able to ensure its preservation after Hurricane Katrina, they transferred it to the Permanent Collection of the American Visionary Art Museum.