By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"They called me up and told me their story, and I listened to them seriously and didn't blow them off," he says. "They had a print which was pretty clearly a reproduction and not particularly valuable."
Debbie remembers Heath distinctly saying "this painting is definitely Picasso, you can tell by his style and flair." In January of '95, the Barneses drafted a letter through a Phoenix architect friend stating that Heath was "99.9 percent convinced of the authenticity of this piece."
When I relate some of this to Heath, he sighs.
"Their story was one of these wonderful things--how someone was trying to sort of hunt them and they were holed up with a gun in the house because they thought they were going to be robbed, and they saw a certain religious or mystical significance in it. That's one of the wonderful things about working in a museum, you get queries that are out of the blue. This is about as far out of the blue as I've ever seen."
So if this particular "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza" was not the authentic piece worth millions that David and Debbie and Daryle say they were led to believe from no less an authority than the late artist himself, what was it?
"Picasso did a drawing, probably pen and ink, that was then used for a series for some sort of a lithograph for this literary magazine," Heath states. It did, in fact, appear in a publication called Lettres Françaises, and the magazine offered "special" copies for sale at the Festival of Mankind in 1955.
"This was a limited-edition run, but limited in mass quantities," Heath says. "These were probably not fine-arts prints coming out that Picasso signed and dated. If you had in your hands one of that edition, then you might have something that may very well be worth $250. Or $1,000, or $50.
"It's an image that probably everyone has seen in Life magazine or whatever, and when you're explaining the difference between an original and a reproduction to people who aren't familiar with how art is produced, that can be difficult. And I was trying very hard not to be a snob.
"They were good people, they were obviously not out to make a quick buck. And I didn't want to destroy any illusions. If God is speaking to them through this print, hey, I'm not the one to say that's bunk."
I ask Heath if, in his attempt to be a nice guy, he was confident that he had made his point clear. Again he sighs.
"Yeah. I tried to be as clear as possible. Whether they walked out hearing loud and clear, I don't know."
Of Heath, Debbie says this:
"I trusted him, but I wasn't sure what his game was."
Upon returning from Dallas, Debbie and David had to make some serious decisions about what to do with this thing.
"We talked about it and decided we could either put it in the closet again, or give it everything we've got and do the research on it," Debbie says. "I'd called ASU and they said it would be anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 to research the painting [this involved computers, travel and experts]. We didn't have that kind of money."
They decided to continue the crusade regardless of whether they had the money. So the couple quit their jobs. David was a supervisor for a construction firm, Debbie worked at Wal-Mart; David received a "very large severance check," plus the couple had their savings to live off of. Going on David's visions, the couple still believed the piece of art could generate not only a load of money on its own, but, if they could access the hidden treasure map to unearth the long-lost European masterpieces, the coffers would be truly swollen. All for the cause of good.
"By this time, all of our greed had passed," David states. "We were spending the money [in our heads], but we were spending it on trust funds for our nieces and nephews so they didn't have to worry about college, and ways for elderly to get medicine without Medicare."
When the right person comes along for the painting, "I'll know," David says cryptically. "God told me that I was to benefit from it because of a covenant that had been promised from the beginning of time. . . . He told me that Debbie and I were destined to meet because she was going to give me this piece, and it was meant for me to have because I could control the evil in it. If we got greedy, it would be cut off, but the funds would be about $120 million."
Then Daryle chimes in.
"We're giving it all away!"
"This is meant for my family and poor people," David reveals, "and my journey is to continue in a different way and then I'm gonna die."
The visions still come to David, but he says they are no longer exclusively painting-related. The work was "a tool that got me to see visions," he now says. "As far as I'm concerned, the painting is mediocre." And, according to a letter the Barneses received from Sotheby's in New York, there is no reason to believe their Picasso is authentic. But that hasn't stopped the Barneses' faith in the painting, or at least the power of the painting, and David's current batch of visions is anything but mediocre.