Permanent Collection

Horse Dress by Anonymous

Anonymous, Horse Dress (right: detail), c. 1935-1940, Wool and synthetic yarn, crocheted,
Courtesy of long-term loan by The Sheppard & Enoch Pratt Hospital, Photo by Dan Meyers.


 

The woman who hand-crocheted this horse dress was a longtime patient of the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, a mental health institution in Baltimore County. Because patient records are confidential, the woman's name was never released and little is known about her outside the hospital except that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and that she wore the dress in defiance of the hospital's dress code. A photograph of this dress appeared in Madeline Ingram's textbook, Psychiatric Nursing.

Schizophrenia is a disease characterized by extreme difficulty in thought organization, but the intricacy of the dress design, made without any pattern, belies the diagnosis. The front of the dress depicts a large horse head with eyes easily recognizable as breast coverings. The horse snout and flared nostrils are expressed on the area covering the wearer's lower belly and two ovaries. Hidden within the chest area's giant horse face, are two additional horse heads, depicted in profile. The dress sides express the horse legs, and the horse haunches cover the wearer's hips. The horse tail is located on the back of the dress as an extension of the wearer's tailbone. Symbolic of raw power, independence, grace, and freedom, the horse is a poignant selection of personal expression for someone institutionalized and under the constant eye of others.