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Darger, Henry (1892-1973)  
 
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Schloeder was thirteen years older than Darger. After their meeting, he quickly became his "special friend," code among gay men at the time for "lover." Darger stated that they spent every minute that they were not at their jobs together and that he paid their way when they went to Riverview Amusement Park, a popular site for dating couples. Their relationship lasted forty-eight years, although they were never able to live together.

Darger painted and wrote throughout his life. His "little girls with penises" reveal that he was associated with and influenced by Chicago's nascent gay subculture of the late 1800s and early 1900s. At that time, gay men explained their sexual orientation by comparing it to a man who has a woman's soul or psyche.

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Darger used the figures to represent his childhood experiences at the Mission and the Asylum. While they sometimes appear at peace in an Arcadian landscape, at other times adults, frequently dressed in army uniforms or academic garb, strangle, eviscerate, or crucify them. As he explained in his first novel, the scenes of evisceration represent rape.

Darger was less metaphoric in his novels. All of his protagonists, both the symbolic hermaphrodites and the biologically "correct" boys, engage consensually in sexual activities with other boys and men.

In 1959, Schloeder died, leaving Darger devastated. He wrote to his beloved's sister about how lost he felt, how nothing held any meaning for him, and how he was barely able to deal with the death.

Almost immediately, Darger's own health began to fail, and he was forced to retire in November 1963. He hated retirement, but he kept busy, continuing to work on Crazy House and then on the autobiographical A History of My Life, as well as painting.

Freed from his ten-hour shifts at the hospital where he had worked, he became a dumpster-diver and hoarder and so withdrawn that he often refused to respond to others.

Those who remember Darger knew nothing about his life, how his father had abandoned him to institutions where he was physically and sexually victimized, that the love of his life for nearly half a century had died, and how his body was so racked with pain that it sometimes incapacitated him, keeping him in bed for days.

Unable to care for himself, in November 1972 Darger moved out of his one-room apartment, in which he had lived for forty years, into a nursing home. He died there five months later on April 13, 1973, the day after his eighty-first birthday. His death certificate states he succumbed to heart disease and senility.

Posthumous Fame

After Darger's work was discovered, his landlord decided to keep his room as he left it and began selling the paintings.

The first exhibition of Darger's paintings occurred in 1977. By the late 1990s, the artist had become well-enough known in the art world that collectors paid thousands of dollars for his work.

Although during his life, Darger never earned more than $3,000 in any given year, some of his more important paintings now sell for upwards of $250,000.

In 2000, the American Folk Art Museum purchased a large number of Darger's paintings and created the Henry Darger Study Center and the Darger Archives in Manhattan, where his paintings, novels, and other items are housed and available to scholars.

A decade later, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art purchased Darger's room, de-constructed it board by board, and then re-constructed it as a permanent exhibit on its premises in Chicago. The exhibit includes a large number of items from the room: pieces of furniture, the fireplace, the table on which Darger painted, his typewriter, and even tins of paint that he used.

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