Until the very end of the story, it is not clear who this "painter lady" is or why she believes she has some sort of territorial right to paint the wall on Taliaferro Street. She certainly doesn't feel the need to explain herself, and when criticized, she doesn't offer up...
Until the very end of the story, it is not clear who this "painter lady" is or why she believes she has some sort of territorial right to paint the wall on Taliaferro Street. She certainly doesn't feel the need to explain herself, and when criticized, she doesn't offer up any justification. The townspeople don't welcome her warmly, and the narrator is ready to paint over her mural as the story reaches its climax.
The first hint toward her identity is the opening paragraph. The narrator notes that carved into the wall on which the "painter lady" focuses her artistic efforts is the name of someone who is special to the community:
I’d sprained my neck one time boosting my cousin Lou up to chisel Jimmy Lyons’s name into the wall when we found out he was never coming home from the war in Vietnam to take us fishing.
Although tragic, this detail is buried in the narrator's angst over the painter lady's presence until the very end of the story. This lady isn't simply some New Yorker who "can’t ... get people to look at [her] work." She has a personal interest in the art on this wall because Jimmy Lyons, who never returned from Vietnam, was her cousin. The painter lady has created a tremendous mural which honors both her cousin, whose etched name is now represented in a beautiful rainbow, as well as the struggles and victories of the history of African Americans. She has painted many famous figures, such as Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman, as well as the lesser known, such as the narrator and her father. And in this mural, she uses each face to tell a united story of the power of their race—including the story of the cousin she lost in Vietnam.