In 1982, a company calling itself Fun House produced a set of color notecards featuring 12 Quaintance paintings. The cards themselves measured 5x7 inches, were blank on the inside, and came with ivory-colored envelopes. The source of the original images is a mystery, but it surely was not the original paintings because the color reproduction on some of the cards is garish and inaccurate.
An article by Ted Smith, "The Art of George Quaintance," that appeared in issue #76 (February 1983) of In Touch for Men, announced the formation of an organization called the National Gay Art Archives (NGAA). It was described as "a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving this important part of our cultural heritage." The article contains reproductions of most of the notecards, a San Francisco address from which the cards might be ordered, a lot of factually incorrect information about Quaintance and his art studio and a plea for donations of money or art. Elsewhere in the issue is an illustrated advertisement for the cards.
Though their subject matter may have been worlds apart, two techniques of Normal Rockwell and George Quaintance invite comparison. Both attended the illustrious Art Students League of New York, an establishment that has been around since 1875. Rockwell's attendance there preceded Quaintance's by nine years — 1910 versus 1919 — but they appear to have "taken home" some of the same learning.
The first technique was the execution of a detailed, full-sized sketch in charcoal on onionskin or tracing paper that would then be transferred to canvas. The artist would pin or tape the sketch to the canvas, then place transfer paper (similar to the carbon paper we used with typewriters) between the sketch and the canvas and, by re-tracing the original, transfer the design to the canvas.
The names of many of Quaintance's models are well known, but there is probably one model you've never heard of, even though he posed for a sculpture and at least six paintings. His name is Stephen Barclay.
Barclay indirectly revealed his presence in a letter dated August 25, 1979, when he replied to a newspaper advertisement. The advertiser was looking to acquire original paintings by Quaintance. In his letter, Barclay stated that he owned two portraits of "the same young man, blonde and handsome." He did not say at that time that he was the young man.
A mutual correspondence ensued, as a result of which Barclay disclosed that he was the young man. He sold the two portraits to the advertiser. What's especially interesting is that fact that Barclay later revealed that he posed for "six or seven" paintings, of which at least two were nudes. An excerpt from that letter appears below.
It is with great sadness that I report that my friend, colleague and co-author, John Waybright, has died. His family notified me that he passed away at 12:10 P.M., May 10, 2013. He gave his body to science.
John was a retired weekly newspaper editor. He earned Virginia Press Association awards for columns, editorials and newspaper page designs. He lived in Luray, VA, not far from George Quaintance's birthplace in rural Alma, Va.
In 2002, when I purchased a collection of Quaintance material at an estate sale, I searched the Internet for more information about Quaintance and that search led me to John. An email correspondence ensued, and after determining that there was little authoritative information about Quaintance in print, we decided to collaborate on a definitive biography. We agreed that John would write about the artist’s years on the East Coast and Ken (Furtado) would depict the years Quaintance spent in Los Angeles and Phoenix. Not only was John born near Quaintance's birthplace, he was a personal friend of one of Quaintance's only living relatives, who opened the family archives to him.
With his health declining, George Quaintance decided to sell the Phoenix property he called Rancho Siesta and move the studio back to LA. One is tempted to wonder whether the more ready availability of doctors and hospitals was a factor.
The painting Rodeo Victor was the last of his popular cowboy-themed canvases. Then came a pair of canvases with ancient themes, Spartan Soldiers Bathing and Baths of Ancient Rome, whereupon George's interests turned to the gods. In quick succession he painted Vulcan (aka Zeus), Bacchant, Falconer and Hercules.
Norse mythology was next. Quaintance announced in a letter to the publishers of Adonis and Body Beautiful, two pocket-sized color physique magazines for which he contributed several covers, that he had hired one of the most popular models of the day, Dick Dubois (1954 Mr. America and 1957 Mr. USA), to pose for his next painting. Dubois was the golden boy of the day, with his face and physique on countless billboards, advertisements and magazines across the continent. He even toured with Mae West as part of her stage show.
Quaintance was a man who liked to be in a relationship, and he had several illustrious partners, even if their renown was not widespread or did not outlast them. One such lover was Ron Nyman (1924-2000), younger by two decades.
Nyman was also an early business partner. They had stationery and business cards printed with both their names. Then Quaintance decided, as he later wrote to a friend, that Nyman was "a gold digger" ... and he kicked him out. Rather than waste good stationery, Quaintance carefully lined out Nyman's name on the remaining letterhead and business cards, and continued to use them.
Prior to the split, Nyman also modeled for three canvases produced by Quaintance in 1952. He is the manacled muscleman in Sacrifice, the foreground figure in Reverie and the reclining nude in Idyll.
The untitled painting depicts a water lily on a midnight-blue background, with a ghostly pair of male and female nudes emerging in a swirl from the center of the flower. It's a motif Quaintance has used in other works.
The dimensions of the canvas are 30x39 inches; the description reads, "The painting was acquired from the artist in 1937, thence by descent to current consignor. It was in the collection of Dr. Annella Brown of Boston, a prominent surgeon and art deco collector. Signed & dated 1937."
The signature is vertical and appears at the right edge of the canvas at the bottom of the blue area. The date is directly below it. If you view this images at maximum size, both are clearly readable.
Follow-up: The painting sold for $2500 plus buyer fees and premiums.
A few years ago, I accepted an invitation from Dennis Bell to visit the Athletic Model Guild. Founded by Bob Mizer in 1945, AMG is the longest continually operating adult male studio in history. It is legendary in so many ways, and it has had such an impact on American erotic culture and counterculture, that Mizer deserves to be on a postage stamp.
Mizer himself was an astonishing personality. As a precocious teen, he and his friends would attend parties thrown by older gay men, delighting their hosts by taking off all their clothes. He began keeping a diary at the age of 17, writing in it nearly every day for the remainder of his life. That diary today encompasses many volumes and makes fascinating reading. Written in extra-large lettering on the very first page, it says: "Bob Mizer … The Boy … The Thinker … The …?"
It was as if he were setting the stage for the rest of his life.
Displaying frontal male nudity was risky in George Quaintance's day. When you consider that many images of unclothed men, even with their penises concealed, often were considered to be obscene, it's no wonder that GQ omitted the penis from his every canvas.
Actually, Quaintance sketched models who were fully nude and studio photographer Victor Garcia photographed models in the nude. Quaintance is even said to have painted while he himself was nude.
As I have reported elsewhere, Quaintance would sometimes include a penis in one of his paintings, only to cover it with paint before he finished.
Rancho Siesta was many things. It was the Arizona studio where George Quaintance lived and worked. It was an ingenious and overwhelmingly successful marketing concept. And it was the closest the American West ever came to an honest-to-goodness incarnation of Shangri-La.
It's interesting that Disneyland opened in 1955, when Rancho Siesta was at the height of its fame and popularity. Disneyland offered Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Frontierland. Rancho Siesta offered the same, but in a different package.