February 11, 2004 by

Jerry Zorthian


Categories: Artists

jzorthian.jpgJirayr H. “Jerry” Zorthian, a bohemian sculptor, architect and painter, died on Jan. 6 from congestive heart failure. He was 92.
Born in Turkey, Zorthian’s family fled to Europe when he was 10 years old. He immigrated to the United States in 1923 and earned a master of fine arts degree at Yale, then received the Winchester Fellowship, which allowed him to study painting at the American Academy in Rome.
Upon his return to America, Zorthian became a professional artist. He painted more than three dozen murals, including 11 for the Tennessee state capitol. During World War II, he served stateside in Army intelligence and painted “The Phantasmagoria of Military Intelligence Training,” the mural he considered his masterpiece. In later years, Zorthian’s paintings focused on the beauty of the human body, particularly the naked female form, and sold for tens of thousands of dollars.
Zorthian also taught at the California Institute of Technology and Pasadena City College, and built a small house on a 45-acre hilltop ranch in Altadena, Calif. Each Spring, the artist would throw a “primavera” birthday party, complete with roasted pig, free-flowing alcohol and nude models. Pasadena residents named Zorthian the Best Artist and Most Eccentric Person in the 1989 “Best of

2 Responses to Jerry Zorthian

  1. Wesley D. Snyder

    I was very priviledged to apprentice with Jirayr during the late summer of 1982. Our work was centered in the pigpen although I did do work on other projects at the ranch. Mr. Zorthian (he hated when I called him that) was and remains the most influential artist of my life. He taught me artistic vision.
    Many of my duties at the ranch included caring for the animals.
    I was writing poetry then (most of it bad). I wrote one poem and gave it to Dabney. I wonder if she remembers the red-headed young man from Tennessee?
    I was deeply saddened at learning of Jirayr’s passing. I can still hear him yelling at me across the corral to come bring him some tool that he needed.
    When I left the ranch I leaned over and whispered into his ear that I had been given a special blessing just to know him.
    Wes Snyder

  2. Philippe

    We’ve been family friends of the Zorthians for as long as I can remember. My sister and I went to his summer camp for kids. Words cannot describe that camp. Anarchy, chaos, creativity, fun, fun, fun, horsemanship, and more chaos all come to mind. It’s a wonder we survived. Fond memories are of Jirayr riding his bucking boar around the pen, tearing tufts of bristles out of the boar’s back in an attempt to hang on. The meatlocker in the girl’s dressing room was filled with the slaughtered remains of a horse that had passed on. The horsemeat served to feed the great danes and the boar. We had some great horse rides through the hills, and learned some rodeo tricks in the ring. And then there’s the time the rattlesnake was blocking the path to the swimming pool, so Jirayr grabbed it bare-handed, held it by the tail and snapped it like a whip. The next week he wore the snakeskin as a hatband. He was an amazing example of humanity. We miss you Jerry.

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