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Jirayr Zorthian

 (1912 - 2004)
Jirayr Hamparzoom Zorthian was active/lived in California, Connecticut / Turkey.  Jirayr Zorthian is known for mural, modern genre, illustration, craftsman.

Jirayr Zorthian

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Jirayr Zorthian
The following is from the artist, August 2002:

Jirayr Hamparzoom Zorthian was born April 14, 1911 in Kutahya, Turkey, of Armenian parents. At the age of three, he showed considerable talent in painting and his drawings and paintings are on record from that time on.

He went through two Turkish massacres before age eight. He left Turkey at age nine with his family and spent a year in Padua, Italy, waiting for his visa to open to the United States. This period was very important in his life because his father took him to many cities in Europe and exposed him to great works of art. He arrived in this country at age eleven in New Haven, Connecticut where he obtained his formal education. After graduating from Yale University, the Winchester Fellowship granted him a year and a half at the American Academy in Rome with travel and study through Europe.

His art career branched into various directions on his return to the United States. As a mural painter his reputation was established. He has forty-two murals throughout the country. Other aspects of his art include sculpture, and forty seven years of constructing and designing buildings. He is an architecture and design consultant.

Education: Yale School of Fine Arts, BFA, 1936
Winchester Fellowship, Year and a half at the American Academy in Rome with travel and study in Europe, 1936-1938

Murals: (some of the more significant ones)
1957: a large rock mural in the 'Laura Scudder' house in La Habra, California
1945: Phantasmagoria of Military Intelligence Training, a large serial mural one hundred fifty seven feet long, four feet high. Possessed by the Army. Lost by the Army.
1937: The development of Power, and The Development of Light, New Haven, Connecticutt, two huge murals in the reception area of The United Illuminating Company, removed in 1991 now in storage awaiting reinstallation in new building. Restoration After the Hurricane, Mural in office of UI plant.
1938: Nashville, Tennessee,Twelve murals in Governors Reception Room.
St. Johnsville, New York, Post Office.
Architecture Consultant: Engineering Science, 1968-1972
Design Consultant: Nash Department Stores, 1967
Co-ordinator, Mural Competition: Glendale, 1970
Chairman, Art in Architecture, Los Angeles, 1956
Chairman, Pasadena Art Fair, 1954, 1955

Center for Research and Development of Industrial Discards With the Emphasis on Aesthetics:

For forty seven years, since 1945, at his forty five acre ranch in Altadena, he has been recycling materials to construct buildings, corrals, walls, stables, large wall and tower sculptures, buttresses.

Teaching: Chouinard Art Institute, Otis Art Institute,
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena City College, Chandler School.

Shows: Pasadena Art Museum, 1953, Pacific Ocean Park,1964
Los Angeles County Fair, Pomona, 1969, guest artist with a one man show.
Etching sponsored by Men's Committee, Pasadena Art Museum.

Awards: 1949, purchase prize, Los Angeles County Museum of Art for The Mob.
1959, First Prize Drawing, Pasadena Society of Artists
1998: First Prize Drawing, First Prize Painting, and Jurist's choice, Pasadena Society of Artists
1997: Artcore annual award
2000: Molly Barnes Gallery, Santa Monica, April one man show.
Lecturer for Cultural Passport
1999: Large sculpture, Zorlefante, in Decade show, (Pasadena Art Museum, 1950-1960,) at Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena.
Grand Marshal, Altadena "Old Fashioned Days" parade
1997: Los Angeles Artcore annual award for lifetime contribution to and support of the arts.
Grand Marshall, Doo Dah Parade of Pasadena
L.A. Weekly, Cover feature article, "The Last Bohemian" by Dave Gardetta, June 13-19.
Completed Water Wall, thirty two feet by six feet two
LA Slide participant with water wall sculpture.
1996: One of "Four Aces"' (the ace of hearts,) at Jan Arte Gallery in Pasadena.
1994: In show, "Artists Influenced by the Architecture," Novaspace, LA Theater Center.
Smithsonian Archives of American Art
Feynman Wall of Passion, nine by eighteen feet
Interview about physicist Richard Feynman in
Book, No Ordinary Genius, by Christopher Sykes, W.W. Norton
1993: KCET, Life and Times, Television Interview
Featured in BBC TV production in London, No Ordinary Genius, about Richard Feynman.
The World According to Zorthian, Paris, France TV production
KCET, Nova, featured in "The Greatest Mind Since Einstein" about Richard Feynman.
1992: Finalist and winner of Pasadena Gateway Competition for Broadway Power Plant. Project aborted due to technical difficulties.
1991: Five large drawings, 5-F, 6'6"x6'6", Red Coat, 5'x3'4",
Sleeping Beauty and the Beast,3'4"x5', The Awakening, 3'4"x5', Pioneer Barter, 5'x6'6",in colored pencil and compressed charcoal.
1990: Portrait of Richard P. Feynman purchased and hung at Princeton University, Physics Department. Feynman portrait commissioned for Cal Tech.
1989: Voted by people of Pasadena, "Best Artist" and "Most Eccentric, in survey by Pasadena Weekly.
1988: Baghdad Bi Annual International Festival of Art, Iraq. Represented U.S. with three enormous compositions.
1987: Declared a Tennessee Colonel by Governor George Mc. Wherther in appreciation of his twelve murals in the Governor's Reception Room in Nashville, Tennessee.
1985: Completed poster celebrating Pasadena, commissioned by Trammel and Crowe.
1983: Gold Crown Award in Art from Pasadena Arts Council
1970s: The Wizard's Eye, Visions of American Resourcefulness, by Jim Higgs, Chronicle Books, featured his works composed of mostly recycled materials: walls, buildings, outdoor sculptures, gates, and land sculpture.
1960s: Large drawing compositions five feet to eight feet high, whimsical commentaries on things that were happening in the 60s.
Combat artist for the United States Navy. Sent to Formosa and Viet Nam to observe, paint and draw his impressions. The government owns the resulting paintings and drawings including a portrait from life of John F. Kennedy.
1957-1982: Designed and directed the Zorthian Ranch for Children, a summer day camp and resource center to develop creative, athletic, and intellectual skills in children.
1949 to present day: "Blessing of the Animals" on Olvera Street. Has organized a large entry every Easter for the colorful pageant of animals including horses, goats, pigs, geese, chickens, boa constrictors, tarantulas, and a variety of people from science, to business to decorative youth.

A very small sample of his many private collectors include: Bob Hope, Glen Ford, Robert Rowan, Gerald Nordlan, Jarvis Barlow, William Agee, Jurine Harnish, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Hixon, the Marion Pike family, the Richard Feynman family, Dr. and Mrs. Murray Gell-Mann, Dr. and Mrs. Albert Hibbs, The Armenian Monastary in Venice, The Armenian Allied Arts Association, The Ararat Museum.

Commentary: "Basic fundamentals are demonstrated in his tremendous composition and drawing ability. Contradictions and conflicts, tension, symbolism, mythological figures, middle ages alchemical meanings and themes, are open to interpretation." Guillarme Toebosch, Belgium art critic, Arts, Antiques, Auctions.

"I have seen Zorthian's drawings. These drawings are unique. They have taken the east and joined it to the west. In past history, the present and the future, there have been, are and will be only a handful of artists who have real inner vision: the inner eye. This man is one of a very few with the inner eye." Buckminster Fuller
Obituary of the artist from the "Star News", Pasadena, California.
Submitted January 2004 by Sue Willoughby, Prescott, Arizona:

PASADENA -- Col. Jirayr H. Zorthian, a larger- than-life painter and sculptor whose trash-strewn hilltop ranch has played host to hordes of intellectuals, artists, and naked nymphs over the past half- century, died Tuesday afternoon. He was 92.

Zorthian's reputation as an eccentric artist and socialite has grown into myth over the last decade, as he celebrated each new birthday surrounded by nude models who dangled grapes into his mouth.

"He was alive. He was a living person who was bouncing and curious and excited about life,' said his widow, Dabney, who married Zorthian in 1957. "He made my life quite marvelous.'

Zorthian's health has been failing for the past several months. In early November, he hosted the coronation of the Doo Dah Queen at the Zorthian Ranch in Altadena. He spent most of the evening seated by the bonfire, watching delightedly as contestants stripped, flashed, danced and sang amid a festive atmosphere of music and alcohol.

He was admitted to the hospital shortly thereafter, and missed the Doo Dah Parade. He was readmitted on Saturday night, and died shortly after noon Tuesday of congestive heart failure.

"He was the most fun-loving madcap sprite I have ever known,' said Pasadena spokeswoman Ann Erdman, who has been to many parties at the ranch over the past 10 years.

"Pasadena without Zorthian that doesn't make any sense right now,' said Tom Coston, director of the Light-Bringer Project, and coordinator of the Doo Dah Parade.

Known for most of his life as "Jerry,' Zorthian was born in 1911 in Western Anatolia, in Turkey. He and his immediate family survived two waves of Armenian massacres. His father, an Armenian political writer, was separated from the family for three years during the genocide, and presumed executed. His extended family was killed.

The family escaped to Europe, and then to America in 1923, and settled in New Haven, Conn. A draftsman from an early age, Zorthian got a master's in fine arts from Yale, before leaving to study art in Italy during the mid-1930s. At 5 feet 2 inches tall, he was a skilled dancer and a champion high school wrestler. He came close to wrestling in the 1932 Olympics. In his year-and-a-half of traveling in Europe, Zorthian witnessed the rise of fascism.

He returned to the United States painted murals throughout the Depression. One mural, for the governor's mansion in Nashville, Tenn., earned him the honorary title of colonel, which he proudly used on his business card.

He joined the U.S. Army during World War II. Stationed stateside, he used his language skills for Army intelligence. He also painted a massive mural, "The Phantasmagoria of Military Intelligence Training,' which years later he considered to be his masterpiece.

He married Betsy Williams, an heiress to a shaving cream fortune, and moved to Altadena in 1945, settling on his nine-acre ranch at the top of Fair Oaks Avenue.

He divorced, and once claimed to be the first man in California to receive alimony. He raised three children by his first wife and two by Dabney Zorthian, but two others died young, tinging Zorthian's life with tragedy. A daughter died of heart failure and Zorthian accidentally backed over a son in his driveway, a blow from which friends said he never fully recovered.

His art reflected the pain of the massacres, finding salvation in nudes. Much of his work focused on female genitalia, and some friends described his paintings, jokingly, as "every man's fantasy.'

Zorthian believed that "woman was the savior of everything,' his wife said.

Zorthian remade the grounds over the decades, sculpting art out of refuse. Wags joked the place resembled "the Eagle Rock dump,' while others found it "bohemian,' though he didn't like the term.

He became known throughout Southern California for wild parties that would last several days, and became friends with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. Celebrities like Charlie Parker and Andy Warhol came to call, but all were welcome, famous or not.

Zorthian liked "anybody that could make beauty out of nothing,' his son Toby said.

When he was 82, Zorthian began throwing large birthday parties with his "naked nymphs,' celebrating as well the renewed vigor of springtime.

"I have 19 more years left before I die,' he said at his 90th birthday party in 2001. "I have 19 years of work that has to be finished. I don't have time to die.'

Several of the nymphs came to his bedside on Sunday afternoon, said Sara Streeter, the head nymph.

"We danced a little bit around him, but the nurse was really cautious with not wanting us to excite him... He was kicking his feet,' Streeter said.

Now, she believes Zorthian is "surrounded by nymphs.'

Coston agreed.

"I think they're welcoming him, and the grapes are out,' he said.

Jirayr's hand is stilled
OH, ALICE, I'm saying on the phone Tuesday, nice to hear from you. But what I'm thinking is, Oh, Alice, God forbid. Because Alice Zorthian lives in Taos, the real Taos, not the Taos-in-Altadena her parents Dabney and Jirayr Zorthian created on the 40 acres surrounding their adobe in the hills above us all. And when Alice wants to get in touch, she e-mails. And Jerry looked to be in very ill health at the Art Alliance Christmas party; he'd just been in Huntington for a long spell, he told me.

Don't worry, Jirayr, I told him. We all know you'll be up on horseback again in no time.

But what Alice was calling to say, as you know from our front-page story today, was that her father won't be saddling up one of the mustangs from the corral by the mountains again.

He won't be hauling the swill out to the marvelous, massive pigs on his ranch this morning.

He won't be keeping that appointment to paint another rapturous young nymph nude from life in his studio this afternoon, beginning to sketch in that Yale-trained, wildly skilled, old- fashioned hand that will turn eventually, after great ... attention to detail ... into a most erotic piece of art.

Because contrary to all the predictions, indeed all the signs of life he exuded every waking minute for the last nine decades, Jerry died yesterday.

It's hugely sad for his family: Dabney and Alice, Alan, Seyburn, Barry, Toby. The man was a legend throughout Southern California: Imagine the legend he was around the house. But it's hell for the rest of us, too: I know of no higher praise than to say the loss of one around whom so much fun was had diminishes the situation considerably.

Who, if not Jirayr, will hold Primavera to celebrate spring, his birthday, Dabney's birthday, their anniversary and everything else under the sun? Who will muster the nymphs, cause them to disrobe on the stage and feed grapes to the reclining Zorbachus while the crowd goes wild?

Some readers thought we wrote too much about Jerry and the goings-on at the ranch. Nonsense. We write too much about City Council meetings.

If we could find them, we need more Jerry Zorthians. More artists who can befriend the physicists. More charmers who can kiss all the girls' hands I often tell the story of how Jerry flirted shamelessly with every girlfriend I ever had (excepting Alice) since I was 14 and yet love, and oh how he loved, only Dabney.

"Dabney!' I can still hear him calling from somewhere out back of the adobe. "Dabney, come here. I need you. Come here right now.' (Probably just to have another dance before bedtime.)

Now Jirayr's voice is distant, more distant than Mars. But for those of us who heard it, it won't be stilled; it's a bongo beat coming down over the city, calling on us to never grow so old again, to take the junk of life and build from it an art wall of our selves, to jury-rig it so high and so solid that it will always be there, even when we're gone.

From the Star News, January 6, 2004:

Funeral arrangements set for Zorthian
By Gene Maddaus, Staff Writer

PASADENA -- Funeral arrangements have been scheduled for artist Jirayr Zorthian, as his family prepares for an influx of well-wishers for one last big party in Zorthian's honor.

The memorial will be held at noon Sunday at the Zorthian Ranch at the top of Fair Oaks Avenue in Altadena.

A smaller group of family and close friends will be on hand Saturday as Zorthian is buried at Mountain View Cemetery.

Zorthian died on Tuesday of congestive heart failure at the age of 92.

Richard Davies, a retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher and Zorthian's friend of 58 years, will give the eulogy during what is expected to be a rather secular service.

The family has already rented a shuttle for the Sunday memorial, so visitors can park at the bottom of the hill and ride up to the ranch.

People also will be allowed to walk up the winding, one-lane road, "something my father would never allow,' said daughter Alice Zorthian.

Zorthian, nicknamed "Jerry,' cultivated a legion of friends in the local arts community, along with scientists, scholars and bohemians.

Davies said he told the family there would have to be a very public memorial.

"Jirayr was an outsized public personality, and (I said) somehow or other they should incorporate that in,' Davies said.

The family is still sorting out the details of how Zorthian's death will affect life at the ranch. It is unclear if the annual Primavera parties, which celebrated springtime, Zorthian's birthday, his wife Dabney's birthday, and their anniversary, will continue.

Zorthian does not appear to have left any detailed instructions about his funeral.

"He preferred not to think about death,' Davies said. "That aspect of how you arrange things and do things to get your life together so things will work out for your family he didn't want to talk about that.'

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Jirayr Zorthian
Born in Kutahia, Armenia on April 14, 1912.  Zorthian graduated from Yale University.  He was a resident of New Haven, CT in 1940 and soon settled in Altadena, CA where he remained until his demise on January 6, 2004.  Exhibited:  New Haven Paint Club, 1936-41; Boston Museum, 1943-45.

Edan Hughes, author of the book "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who’s Who in American Art, 1940-62.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Jirayr Zorthian

Born:  1912 - Kutahya, Turkey
Died:   2004 - Altadena, California
Known for:  mural, modern genre, illustration, craftsman