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#TBT: The Mid-Century Paradise of George Quaintance

#TBT: The Mid-Century Paradise of George Quaintance

After renting the home for a couple of years, Quaintance purchased it outright from its previous owners in 1953, for a down-payment of ten dollars and a $6,000 mortgage. The second-story balcony on the west side of the home is where George usually worked. Visitors who were privileged to be admitted would always find on his easel the current work-in-progress, even if it was draped. Long-distance lover, Rev. Bob Wood, visiting the household in 1953, wrote to the authors in a 2006 letter that, “When I bought the Crusader, George was working on Rainbow Falls & had a white sheet hung on the stair railing to represent the falls.” This balcony is where Quaintance painted the majority of his male physique canvases.

The composition of the Quaintance household was avant-garde from the very start. Of the three and, later, four men who lived there, Tom Syphers loved Rancho Siesta the most. One of Quaintance’s scrapbooks shows a formal portrait of Tom. The painting is not dated, but judging from the other portraits in that scrapbook, it was probably completed in the early- to mid-1940s. Tom held a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and he was a World War II veteran. He was 15 years younger than George. It is not known whether Syphers was a client, a friend or a boyfriend when Quaintance painted him, or whether they subsequently enjoyed anything other than a business relationship. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Syphers — a blond — was once a boyfriend, but if this was the case, he was an exception to the rule. Quaintance had an overwhelming preference for Latinos and men of swarthy skin and dark visage. It was Tom who, when he and Victor inherited Rancho Siesta after George’s death, could not bear to sell the property and insisted that they spend at least part of each year there. Only after Tom’s death in 1964 did Victor finally sell Rancho Siesta and leave Arizona behind.

Victor Garcia was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1913. He came to the United States in 1938 or 1939. Victor was smooth with a dark complexion, slender and muscular, and he quickly found work modeling for Lon (of New York) Hanagan. It is almost certain that Lon introduced Victor to his bosom friend, George, who soon became Victor’s lover. That relationship later subsided into friendship — but a lifelong one — possibly due to Victor’s absence while he served in World War II. After the war, George and Victor established a solid business relationship, when Victor became the principal photographer for the Quaintance Studio. Victor and Tom Syphers subsequently became a couple — a shift in the domestic balance that suited all three men well. George, in his will, left his entire estate jointly to Victor and Tom.

Quaintance After The Stormx633
After the Storm, 1951. 8 x 11 inch reproduction c. 1950s. ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

A fourth member joined the household in 1954, when George fell in love with his frequent model, Edwardo (fondly called Eddie), and invited him to live with them. Edwardo, whose real name is not known, was a young man from Mexico. While their relationship lasted, George lavished many gifts of clothing and Native American jewelry on Edwardo. For publicity purposes, George told people Edwardo was an Apache, which he felt was a more glamorous and marketable lineage than Mexican. But Edwardo did not remain part of the household for long; in late 1956 or early 1957 he returned to Mexico, leaving behind all the gifts George had given him. The Reverend Robert Wood, an earlier lover in whom George often confided, claimed that Edwardo married upon his return to Mexico. Wood speculated that Eddie’s departure from Rancho Siesta was due to inner conflicts about his sexual orientation. Quaintance was devastated. Wood further speculated that a broken heart may have contributed to George’s demise, so soon after Eddie’s departure.

It can be concluded from the portraits he painted and from his work in Hollywood that Quaintance’s first forays to the west coast were in the 1930s. How and when he discovered, and became enchanted by, Arizona is harder to pinpoint. He painted Havasu Creek in the 1940s, but did he actually visit that remote and hard-to-reach spot, and how did he know about it? Quaintance, who was a notoriously poor correspondent and did not keep a journal, does leave a clue, however. In his “autobiography” in the Spring 1956 issue of Grecian Guild Pictorial — the lengthiest personal disclosure he would ever make — he discourses about mountains in a way that is both literal and metaphorical:

“My first problem was to get over those high blue mountains I was born behind. After I accomplished that, there were … many more mountains I had to cross. It seems I have been crossing mountains ever since! The last crossing brought me to Arizona — a happy place of great space, strength and fundamental beauty. But as I write these lines, I can see great mountains in the distance, and I know that soon I shall be crossing again.”

It is difficult to read this passage without believing that Quaintance was foreseeing his own death the following year.

In ads and in marketing materials, Quaintance misleadingly claimed that Rancho Siesta was located in Paradise Valley, an exclusive town located northeast of Phoenix, several miles from the true Quaintance residence and studio. Perhaps “Paradise Valley” had more romantic appeal than “Phoenix.” In either case, the actual location of Rancho Siesta was closely guarded. Due to the unconventional nature of the relationships among the residents, George’s painting, Victor’s photography sessions, and the comings and goings of models who posed unclothed, discretion was a necessity. The physical address of the studio and the telephone number were disclosed only on a need-to-know basis. In a letter Victor wrote in 1976 to the Florida collector who would eventually purchase 22 paintings, he says, “We always had an unlisted phone and you could understand why. We could hardly do any work with people coming over at the time that we had to do the model photography and the sculptures.”

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