I never understood why museum goers enjoy gazing at the portraits of strangers. I mean, why? Even someone noteworthy like George Washington, a fine subject with perfect curls, is not a face I need to study. Art for art’s sake, perhaps. Or maybe I’m meant to have a moment of communion with the father of our country.
But this weekend at a yard sale I spied a luminous rendering of a woman I’ve never met staring back at me from the driveway. I walked around browsing the goods, but I kept going back to her.
“What’s the story with the portrait?” I asked the young woman selling it.
“Oh, that’s Jane,” she said. “But we call her Edith. It was done in the fifties. She was a neighbor.”
Several questions sprung to mind:
Why Edith? She was a plain Jane but Edith did seem to fit more. I thought of Edith from All in the Family, Edith from Downton Abbey.
Why would anyone have a portrait of a neighbor?
Why did this young woman keep it for so long?
Who painted it?
Was Edith part of a neighbor love triangle?
I didn’t pry. But I wish I had.
“How much are you asking?”
“Twenty dollars,” she said. “I really don’t want to sell it.” In the background her husband indicated that he did. “We’re moving to Michigan and we can’t take her with us. Really.” He silently pleaded with me to rid them of Edith.
Indeed, Edith, rendered in pastels and trapped in her vintage frame, is not cut out for Michigan. She doesn’t have the outerwear. For $15 with a couple of shirts thrown in that Edith would never be caught dead in, I brought her home and propped her up to see where I might hang her. Every time I look over there she’s looking at me. Such a starer.