click image for enlargement

Nude study of Stowitts,
by Nicolas Muray, NYC, 1922.


Stowitts at easel
in Paris, 1926.


Stowitts with boys visiting
Vanishing India,
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1931.


Stowitts in benefit performance,
Monte Carlo Opera House, 1923.


Stowitts as the Satyr,
"The Magician," Metro, 1926.


Centerfold of Folies Bergère
program, Paris 1924.


Stowitts in Cambodian
Temple Dance, Paris, 1921.


Stowitts with bronze sculpture of his
Balinese lover, Los Angeles, 1944.


Nude study of Stowitts
by Nicolas Muray, NYC 1922.

ay Stowitts made his entry into the world on June 26, 1892, born in his parents' humble apartment above a hardware store in Rushville, Nebraska. The family then settled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a geographical region sacred to the Sioux Nation. His father found work as a clerk for a gold mining company in Lead where Stowitts attended public school. He studied the classical curriculum of the era - Virgil, ancient history, mathematics, German and English literature. His education as an artist took place outside the classroom, in the Lakota encampments beyond Lead, where Jay's true friends lived. These Native American people allowed the blue-eyed, blond youth into their world where he experienced the pace of "Indian Time", and learned the power that dwells in nature and mythology.

Following his graduation from high school the Stowitts family completed their western trek and settled in Los Angeles. The Golden State provided a richness and diversity of life which became both point of departure and a point of return for his fantastic career in the arts. With meager savings and promise of scholarships, Stowitts entered the University of California at Berkeley in August, 1911.

Across the Bay, "The Jewel City" was rising phoenix-like from the devastation of earthquake and fire. It was in San Francisco when Stowitts became captivated by his first glimpse of ballet at a performance of Danish ballerina Adeline Genée and her partner, Alexandre Volinine, with whom, ironically, he would one day compete for accolades. Stowitts began private ballet class immediately thereafter and learned the basic rudiments of classical technique. Like Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and America's other great dance pioneers, he worked with what was close at hand. By his senior year Stowitts was an accomplished dancer, performing in theaters and private homes of ambitious society hostesses.

Anna Pavlova discovered Stowitts dancing at the Greek Theater in Berkeley in the summer of 1915 and invited him to join her ballet company. He canceled graduate studies at Harvard and embarked on an adventure of excitement and romance that took him to the major stages of the Americas and Europe where stardom awaited. He left Pavlova's company to settle in Paris and pursue a solo career. Now a star in his own right he appeared in London, Stockholm, Madrid and New York. In Paris Stowitts starred in the 1924 Folies-Bergère with dazzling costumes by Erté.

Few dancers have the courage to retire in their prime, especially when "trained down to racehorse shape," as Stowitts described himself. Even fewer have the courage at age 33 to launch themselves in an entirely new medium. By 1925, he was creating a career for himself as a painter from his studio on Montmartre's Avenue de Clichy. From his experiments with palette and brush ambitious collections of paintings soon followed: The Golden Age of Dance; The Fall of the Angels; and The Work of Stowitts for Fay Yen Fah, costumes and stage designs for a Chinese opera.

In 1926 Stowitts made his first film, "The Magician", for Metro Studios. With earnings from this venture he was able to underwrite an odyssey to the East where he lived and painted in Indonesia and India. He returned to Paris in 1931 and accompanied his Asian collections on a tour of major museums in Europe and the United States. In Hollywood he was The Sun God in Garbo's "The Painted Veil" for MGM in 1934.

Next he completed 55 paintings of nude athletes entitled American Champions which he accompanied to Berlin for exhibition during the 1936 Olympic Games. The paintings caused a sensation, attracting crowds and critical acclaim in the German press. The depiction of Black and Jewish athletes, however, offended Nazi sensibilities and the notorious Alfred Rosenburg closed the exhibit. Using his last funds to ship the paintings safely back to America, Stowitts became stranded in Berlin where he remained for more than a year before returning to California at the end of 1937.

The German interlude marked the end of his career in the public spotlight as war wreaked havoc on cultures he knew and loved. Stowitts grew a beard befitting a sage. And so he was. His scholarly background in mathematics and symbolism inspired Stowitts to use the language of sacred geometry to illuminate in paint invisible energies of higher consciousness. Stowitts then began painting The Labors of Hercules and chose Steve Reeves as his model. Sadly, the artist became too ill to compete the work. (Ironically, Reeves would go on to fame and fortune in Italy in film roles, including Hercules, and other mythological heroes.)

Stowitts died peacefully in February, 1953. His body was cremated and the ashes spread to the four winds as he wished. The paintings he had created over a lifetime were hidden away, deep in museum storage and private collections, where their brilliant colors and records of vanishing cultures offered silent rebuke to the materialism they were meant to protest. Recounting the accomplishments of Stowitts is not the entire record of his remarkable story, even though art occupied the greater part of his life. Like Walt Whitman before him, (and Richard Rodriguez today), Stowitts was uniquely American, and richly deserves a place of honor in our national pantheon of homosexual heroes whose contributions to humanity remain timeless.

                           --Anne Holliday

Photographs Courtesy of The Stowitts Museum and Library Copyright 1998. All rights reserved by Anne Holliday and The Stowitts Museum and Library.

Paintings One ~ Paintings Two ~ Chronology ~ Discussion Group