The Photographs and Artwork of Hubert Julian Stowitts
Born in Rushville, Nebraska, in June of 1892, Hubert Julian (Jay) Stowitts was an American painter and ballet dancer. Raised in the Lakota Souix area of South Dakota, he moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1911. Upon his arrival, Stowitts enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where, as a gay student, he became a successful college athlete, captained the university’s track team, and acted in several student theater productions.
Captivated by a ballet performance seen in San Francisco, Stowitts decided to begin private dance lessons. He became an accomplished dancer and performed both on the public stage and at private parties for San Francisco’s upper class residents. Stowitts kept his dancing secret from his parents for much of his college years; he graduated from the University of California in 1915 with a degree in Commerce.
In the summer of 1915, while dancing at the Greek Theatre, a large amphitheater owned by the University of California, Julian Stowitts impressed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who was in attendance. He accepted an invitation to join her dance company and dropped plans to attend graduate school at Harvard. Stowitts, the first American to star with a Russian ballet troupe, traveled as a successful dancer for six years throughout Europe and the Americas. Leaving Pavlova’s company, he moved to Paris and started a solo career with performances throughout Europe, including a starring role with the Folies Bèrgere in 1924.
During his solo career, Stowitts executed choreographies for other dance companies, designed sets and costumes, and continued his painting. In 1925 at the age of thirty-three, he retired from dancing and pursued a new career as a painter and occasional film actor. Stowitts traveled through the Far East in the late 1920s, where he lived and painted in Java for a year. After a stay in Indonesia, he lived in the southern part of Asia for several years and, during this stay, created a series of one hundred and fifty-five canvases entitled “Vanishing India”. After his return to Europe in 1931, Stowitts’s painted depictions and scholarly studies of traditional Indonesian and Indian dance and costume enjoyed wide popularity in the 1930s.
For the art exhibition at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Julian Stowitts presented a series of fifty-five paintings depicting American male athletes in the nude, which caused a sensation among the attendees. While in Berlin, he assisted German film director Leni Reifenstahl on her “Olympia”, released in 1938 as the first feature film documentary of an Olympic Games, later used by the Nazis as a propaganda film. Due to her fame and influence, Riefenstahl was able to protect Stowitts from persecution for being gay; but his exhibition was closed by the Nazi regime because of their objection to the manner in which Stowitts depicted Jewish and African-American athletes.
Returning to California in 1937, Stowitts struggled financially as his artwork began to lose public interest. He found, with the assistance of friends, some security with employment as a house caretaker in the Los Angeles area. Stowitts continued to lecture on Indian and Javanese culture and to paint privately for the remainder of his life. The last of his painting series, uncompleted due to illness, was “The Labors of Hercules”, in which actor and body builder Steve Reeves served as the model. Hubert Julian Stowitts died in San Marino, California on February 8, 1953.
The papers of American dancer and painter Hubert Julian Stowitts, including biographical materials, correspondence, and exhibition and performance related materials are available for research at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley.