Auntie’s ArchiveNo one in her family ever came
right out and said the maiden aunt who was
an artist lived a life of open scandal.
No one would. They only kept remarking
that you know she never married, which
of course was understood to mean she was
suspect. When she died, a married niece
who had no children—a devout clubwoman
whose routine was filled with matched ensembles,
proper charities and social obligations
vested in the city’s best surviving
clans—without a moment’s hesitation
burned all Auntie’s papers. Couldn’t take
a chance. Goodness knows, it was enough
that her paintings, filled with sensual shapes and colors
which made the viewer feel uneasy and alive,
demonstrated Auntie’s sense of passion;
that, in fact, she knew too much about it.
The family simply felt it was enough
—too much, they feared—to see forever hanging
on the textured walls of all the regional museums samples of their Auntie’s art.
Well, this they could not help. But what they could
attend to was destruction of the rest
which wasn’t art: the lettered witness to
the truth that lay behind her earthy work.
Let the paintings do the speaking and
revealing if they must. The final blame,
they said, would not be on their hands:
the vulgar standards of too many people
claiming to have taste—or worse, who might
suggest, on reading Auntie’s archive, that
her life was art.
©2018 Thomas L. Johnson