Friday, January 22, 2010

uncle pete


My Great Uncle Pete was a pretty famous Western painter and rodeo cowboy in the earlier part of the 20th Century, and his ever-present paintings provided some of the mightiest and most memorable images of my childhood. He worked out of Tuscon, Arizona and legend has it that he and the uber-butch actor, Lee Marvin, used to regularly get pissed together in The Tap Room bar at the now historic Hotel Congress. Apparently, several of his paintings still hang there. Despite the official word, knowing my family, they were most likely traded as payment for bar tabs run amok. Where there's smoke, there's fire.

From their website:

The Tap Room has been popular with the locals since its inception in 1919. In the late 1930s and 1940s, the Tap Room was given its touch of western class. Pete Martinez was a famous artist and rodeo cowboy. While he roped & bucked with the best in New York, his artwork was featured in art exhibits, including the lobby of the Garden & Woolworth Galleries. He retired in Tucson with his wife. Though it’s been suggested that Martinez painted pictures to pay for his keep here at Hotel Congress, they are just rumors. His paintings grace the walls of the Tap Room for one simple reason — it was his watering hole. He enjoyed the company and the drinks so much that he bestowed some of his art to show his appreciation. Many celebrities and regular folk collect Pete Martinez’ work — in fact, we are regularly asked to sell his work to collectors. We always smile and say “No”. We want his work to remain where he felt at home.

Yeah, right. Way to clean up the filth for the unwashed masses. Even though Uncle Pete was certainly one of the more savory characters in my family's tawdry, madcap history, he was no saint, either. He is, after all, related to me.

A few years ago, I was casually thumbing through a ragged copy of Architectural Digest magazine in my Rheumatologist's waiting room and was pleased and surprised to find that apparently one of the most avid and enthusiastic collectors of his work is the actress Diane Keaton. She has several paintings of his hanging in her exquisitely restored Spanish Colonial home in Los Angeles, including a rather uncharacteristically large piece of his that serves as the aesthetic centerpiece of her formal dining room. When I saw the pictures, it made me smile to discover that one of my delightfully scandalous clan actually excelled at something other than crimes committed or time served.

Hurray for Great Uncle Pete.

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