JF Ptak Science Books Post 1056 (First post in our History of Noses series)
There is an entire dictionary of explanations for this odd image (appearing in LIFE magazine for 14 September 1953). Here's a candidate launched from this blog's Museum of Impossible Things department: the photograph accompanies a newspaper clipping from the Library of Congress' Newspaper Clippings Collections!, an above-the-fold front-page obituary for a man with an unusual obsession, as follows:
[Obituary from the St. Florida News, from At, Texas. ]
"The Mystery of the Secret Painter of At, Solved!"
"Gileless, Newton. After a long illness of undescribed origin and affect, Mr Newton Gileless, at home. Newton was born in Aint, Texas before moving to At in 1916 “to get away from the negativeness”. He had few friends and distant neighbors, and was fond of keeping overturned muffin-stuffed cowboy boots on his fence posts. He donated hard pancakes to the bench-sitting old men down by the Rexall, and kept a large box at the Post Office."
"Mr. Gileless’ prime mover of community interest was his secretive painting practices. For decades Mr. Gileless could be seen scurrying around town, or at in the fields, or along the dusty roads, or at the stream near the peach trees, carrying a large easel with a canvas attached with yards of paintin' rope.. He could be seen painting but only from a distance, as distance of quietness seemed the enabler for his painterly ambitions. The object of his interests was not known"
"Mr. Gileless’ estate was left to Bo Tanger, the regional coroner, who administered the last wishes and who revealed the close secret. “I finally got to see what Newton was painting”, said Tanger, "and its odd, even for here, where people's business is their own in private, and his was public".
[Photo: 2nd grade class with their happy bequest of Mr. Gileless' artwork at At, Texas Primary School.]
"Mr. Gileless' continued artist pursuit was painting Color-by-Numbers portraits of Vaudevillean, comic and movie actor Jimmy Durante. There were more than 6,250 of these portraits found in Gileless' barn. His will instructs (and provides the funds for) their distribution to 'as many good Texan second-graders as possible. Yes.' And so it was this that Mr. Gileless was painting in his secret painterly way, painting again and again, hoping for hte colors to improve with exposure to different surroundings, especially and evidently en plein air."
"When overly prompted on the mysterious Durante muse, Mr. Tang responded: 'Well sir, I don't know. But Durante has showbusiness' biggest nose, and Mr Gilieless had but a scant smidgeon. Maybe it was soulful envy.' " --Buck Smeal for the At Tattler Texas, 1 September 1953.
1. The Library of Congress decided in the midst of a space-saving fit to save only “necessary” bits from its newspaper collections and to discard the rest. “We aren’t Mr. Borges”, one library staffer volunteered, “and we just thought that all of the other challenged stuff had to go”. The Library’s reduction removed 92% of the newspaper collection “bulk”. Another source said that “if you look at it in one way, what we dumped was mostly nothing, ‘cause the printed page is mostly white space and unused”.