Questions About Quaintance
By Marshall Shore, September 2015 Issue.
Ashores one of the original six founders of Echo Magazine, Ken Furtado (pictured) knows a thing or two about the gay history of Phoenix.
During the publication’s early years, Furtado did a little bit of everything – from writing and editing to laying out the issues and serving as Echo’s first webmaster.
Eventually, he took on the role of writing book reviews and entertainment-related articles, and was the sole editor and webmaster of Echo’s now defunct adult co-publication, X-Factor.
Furtado, a long time admirer of the work of George Quaintance, lives only a few miles from late artist’s infamous Rancho Siesta in Phoenix.
Echo caught up with Furtado following the release of Quaintance: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer, and here’s what he had to say.
Echo: Who is George Quaintance?
Furtado: A remarkable fellow. He was born in 1902 to a fairly wealthy family of farmers and landowners in rural Virginia. He was just a flaming queen from birth and his parents weren’t horrified by that – they supported him. They loved him and let him do what he wanted to do, which was to become an artist.
Echo: When did his paintings begin to show skin?
Furtado: He was painting pin-ups, female pin-ups, very busty babes for different pulp magazines of the era. At some point, he started doing male nudes, and that’s what he did for the rest of his life. Though he continued to paint portraits, which he loved to do. His celebrity ties sort of dropped him when he started doing the male nude stuff. The Hollywood and Broadway celebrities disassociated with him, which is kind of weird because you think they would have been more open-minded to the kind of person he was, they weren’t.
Echo:How did Quaintance end up in Arizona?
Furtado: I don’t know how he ended up in Arizona. Some of his earliest paintings are of Havasu Creek, how that happened I was never able to discover. He bought property in Phoenix and established this fictitious Rancho Siesta, which was actually his studio, and presented it as this huge sprawling cattle ranch that was populated by livestock and lots of scantily-dressed hunky men and people bought into that and that help him to market his work.
Echo: How did you decide to write a biography?
Furtado: I went to an estate sale here in town and one of the things in the sale was a loose leaf notebook that contained 75 to 80 vintage prints of George Quaintance’s paintings and they wanted $5 each picture. But, when I asked for the price for the entire notebook, it was something ridiculous like $50. I took it home and wanted to learn more, but realized that there was not much information and lots of conflicting information. I found a reference to the Tom of Finland foundation and a biography in the works. Years went by and no biography appeared, come to find out there was a fire and all of the data was lost. While researching, I ran into a fellow who lived in Virginia, a retired newspaper editor, named John Waybright. John and I struck up a conversation [along the lines of], “too bad there is no biography. Why don’t we do it?”
Echo:How long did it take till there was a finished document?
Furtado: Eleven years. It took a long time, we had no financing. I was still working full time and didn’t have time to do research. John was still working. We agreed that John would cover the part of Quaintance’s life that was spent in the East. That would be art school, vaudeville, dancing and the diplomatic portraits. I would do the part Quaintance related to Los Angles and Phoenix. That’s how we divided up the work. Sadly, John did not live to see the fruits of his labors in print.
Echo:What made you decide to publish an e-book?
Furtado: We were never able to attract the attention of a publisher. The work languished and we would get fired up again and get 40 letters of rejection. On Mother’s Day three years ago, I got a letter from John’s wife (he was a married gay man) saying John passed away. We both did all this work and never saw anything published and now he is dead. I decided I am going to do this myself. If nobody wants to publish this, I’ll publish it. So I had to learn how to do an e-book. It had been probably three years since I looked at the manuscript. So I basically started all over again rewriting from page one to the end and put it into an e-pub form and it’s online.
Echo:Why is it important that we know the story of Quaintance?
Furtado: Because there was none else like him and because he was the first one who dared, if that’s the right word, to actually show men in more erotic situations with other men and they weren’t ugly, mean, sordid or perverted. They were nice to look at and he threw in Hispanics and Native Americans into idyllic situations. That had never been done. Photography had just reached the age where you could show guys in posing straps or guys with their genitals concealed. Nobody was doing any kind of illustrative work. So he was the first one to put this on paper and one canvas. He was groundbreaking.
Echo: Did Quaintance’s work influence others?
Furtado: From Quaintance we went right to Tom of Finland, full hard-core gay male representations of sex. During George’s time you could get thrown in jail for putting something like that in the mail. Postal authorities destroyed one of his paintings because it was considered obscene. Though no pubic hair or penis were seen, just the fact the male was in a suggestive pose or position with another male, was enough. The art director for the film Querelle (1982) acknowledged that he was influenced by the work of Quaintance.
Echo: What do you think George’s place in Arizona’s history is?
Furtado: You know, it’s zero. When I was just starting my research I went to the research library at the Phoenix Art Museum. I spoke with a docent and we could find nothing, not a single thing. She said “You must be mistaken. If there was an Arizona artist named George Quaintance we would know something about him. So, you either have the name wrong or you have the place wrong.” That’s his place in Arizona history, pretty much unknown except for a very small few … So, I would hope that my book will help him get a foothold in art history, gay history and Arizona history.
John Waybright, 1938-2013
John Waybright was a newspaper editor, earning Virginia Press Association awards for columns, editorials and newspaper page designs, who lived in Luray, Va., not far from George Quaintance’s birthplace in rural Alma, Va.
After Waybright and Furtado connected, while both were searching for Quaintance information, they realized that there was very little authoritative information about Quaintance available; so they decided to collaborate on a definitive biography.
Waybright was a personal friend of a Quaintance relative who opened the family archives to him. And, 11 years later (two years after Waybright passed away), Quaintance: The Short Life of an American Art Pioneer was published.