About once a year I have a conversation with George Quaintance's closest living relative. (I won't disclose her name or whereabouts, for fear of unleashing hordes of well-wishing strangers upon her.) We talk about health and family and, of course, George, and we share any new information we may have encountered since our previous conversation.
This woman, whom I will call The Dark Lady, is the grand-daughter of George's mother's sister. She wields the reins of a family archive that includes written documents, hundreds of photos, and a dozen or more canvases that George painted — most of them while he was still living at home.
One of those paintings is itself titled The Dark Lady. The canvas measures 14 by 20 inches and is dated 1925. It shows a woman's head in profile. Her hairdo resembles dreadlocks, but back then they were banana curls. There's an interesting story behind this dark lady. Here it is, told in the first person by the "other" Dark Lady.
"I don't have any concrete info on her but will tell you her story as I know it. I found her about 15 years or so ago, languishing in my mother’s attic. The only paintings there are George's. I brought her home and had her on display when Harlon Baker came to visit and asked me who she was. (Harlon, you may know, had written a play about the last hanging in Page County; my grandfather had been the doctor who attended the shooting victim which led to the hanging, and George's father's store had sold the gun to the young man who shot his sweetheart in a fit of jealousy.)
"Anyway, Harlon saw the dark lady at my house, became intrigued, and a search began to find out who she was. He took the painting all over the county asking that question, with no positive results. She looked very much like one of George's early dance partners here and we had just about decided that must be who it was when he took her by Bill Kibler's house.*
Bill said immediately, 'Oh yes, I know exactly who that is, no question about it.' Turned out it was a self-portrait ... George dressed as a woman and with long dark hair! Bill had his wits about him until the day he died, so I have no question as to his opinion being right on. George liked to do self-portraits as you know."
*Journalist William "Bill" Kibler was George's schoolmate and next-door neighbor. He kept a meticulous daily journal his entire life that encompasses more than 136,000 handwritten pages. Subsequent to his death in 2002, the journal was donated to his alma mater, the University of Virginia, which plans to have the pages digitally scanned and made available to scholars.