Emma Kunz: the entrancing art of a Swiss psychic

Gal Koplewitz in The Economist:

Few people ever observed Emma Kunz, a Swiss alternative healer and artist, at work. One of the only accounts comes from a man called Anton Meier, who first met Kunz when his parents asked her to cure his childhood polio. Kunz was a spiritualist who used drawing as a way to divine the future. Meier recalled watching her in the early 1940s as she attempted to predict the outcome of a meeting between Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

Standing in front of the sheet of graph paper and concentrating on her question, she held her pendulum in her right hand above the paper. The movements of the pendulum indicated points, which she marked down; the drawing thus began with an array of pencilled dots. She then used the pendulum to establish the main lines and drew them directly on the paper, before starting to connect the dots with lines in pencil, coloured pencil and crayon.

The drawings Kunz created through this unusual process – more than 400 in total – are kaleidoscopic, hypnotic and enigmatic. They remained in her workroom during her lifetime, and weren’t exhibited until 1973, more than a decade after her death, when they went on show at a museum in Switzerland. Now, around 60 of them are on display at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

Kunz was born in Switzerland in 1892 into a family of handloom weavers, and developed an early interest in the paranormal. As the exhibition catalogue puts it (perhaps too matter-of-factly), she “[discovered] her telepathy and extra-sensory powers as a child.” In 1910 she took up radiesthesia, a form of divination she practised with a pendulum. She had a strong independent streak and at the age of 19 travelled to America in pursuit of a pastor’s son. The trip was not a success, and she returned to Brittnau, the town where she grew up, where she was given the cruel nickname “Mrs Philadelphia”. She never married, although she did live with Jacob Friedrich Welti, an art critic, for five years, after working as a part-time housekeeper for his family.

More here.

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