Hot rod designer be­came art ex­pert

‘He had ex­cel­lent taste and a great eye.’ — Howard Terp­n­ing, prom­i­nent painter of Na­tive Amer­i­cans

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By Steve Chawkins steve.chawkins@la­

John J. Ger­aghty, an au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neer who made his mark in hot rod de­sign be­fore switch­ing gears and be­com­ing an ex­pert in the art of the Amer­i­can West, has died. He was 85.

Ger­aghty died May 27 of can­cer at his Glen­dale home, his daugh­ter LeeAnn York said.

An af­fa­ble fig­ure in his bolo tie and cow­boy boots, Ger­aghty was a trustee of the Autry Na­tional Cen­ter for the Amer­i­can West. Help­ing to set up the Autry’s an­nual Masters of the Amer­i­can West Fine Art Ex­hi­bi­tion and Sale in 1998, he es­tab­lished it over the years as one of the na­tion’s top west­ern art shows.

“If some­one dis­ap­pointed him by send­ing in less than their very best work, they’d be rep­ri­manded,” said Autry vis­ual arts cu­ra­tor Amy Scott. “Of course, they’d also be praised for go­ing above and be­yond. He had high ex­pec­ta­tions of the artists he se­lected for the show, and he made sure they pro­duced.”

Pi­lot­ing a small plane, Ger­aghty fre­quently flew around the West, touch­ing down in Cut Bank, Mont., or Tucson to en­cour­age promis­ing artists or to keep up with old pros.

“He had ex­cel­lent taste and a great eye,” said Howard Terp­n­ing, a prom­i­nent painter of Na­tive Amer­i­cans who ac­com­pa­nied Ger­aghty on many of his trips and fre­quently hosted him at his Tucson home.

“We shared a lot of time vis­it­ing in my stu­dio. If I had a paint­ing on the easel, I’d ask for his opin­ion. He was just a great friend.”

Ger­aghty, who liked to say he was “aff licted” with a pas­sion for west­ern paint­ing and sculp­ture, had no for­mal art train­ing — but he ap­plied an artist’s touch to much of what he did.

In 1960, the Christ­mas dis­play he built at his Mon­trose home made head­lines. It in­cluded a 40foot-tall rocket — the Saint­nik I — that he put to­gether from welded oil drums and old car parts. A tape record­ing blared Christ­mas car­ols, al­ter­nat­ing with the launch­pad roar of an ac­tual At­las rocket.

He also de­signed T-shirts for his Ger­aghty Auto and Marine busi­ness with a dis­tinc­tive im­age: a wheeled boat bil­low­ing smoke, driven by a man with a crazy grin.

A tow truck driver when he was young, Ger­aghty had a pas­sion for rac­ing. He was a fix­ture around South­ern Cal­i­for­nia drag strips and was known for su­per-fast cre­ations, in­clud­ing a candy-green, con­verted Model T road­ster with nearly 1,000 horse­power that was called the Ger­aghty-Craw­ford Grasshop­per.

The Grasshop­per was on the cover of Hot Rod mag­a­zine in Oc­to­ber 1959, said hot rod his­to­rian Pat Ganahl, the mag­a­zine’s for­mer edi­tor.

“It had so much power, it would never go straight down the track,” he said, “but it set a record for its class.”

A du­pli­cate of the Grasshop­per will be on hand at Ger­aghty’s fu­neral at 11:30 a.m. Thurs­day at For- est Lawn-Hol­ly­wood Hills, his daugh­ter said.

One of his ear­lier rac­ers was the first hot rod to set a Bon­neville record in 1952. It went 230 mph.

Ger­aghty de­vel­oped tech­niques like dyno­tun­ing for im­prov­ing en­gine ef­fi­ciency. He worked on Steve McQueen’s car in the 1968 film “Bul­litt” and tuned cars for the FBI. He co-wrote a book and de­signed a sys­tem for squeez­ing bet- ter gas mileage out of RVs, and churned out en­gine-sav­ing tips in a col­umn for “Trailer Life” mag­a­zine.

“He was quite a celebrity among RV’ers,” York said.

Born in Los An­ge­les on April 3, 1930, Ger­aghty was raised by his grand­mother. He at­tended Fresno State be­fore join­ing the Navy, where he was as­signed to the USS Toledo and be­came a wel­ter­weight boxing champ.

He started col­lect­ing art on a trip to Ari­zona in the 1970s but de­voted him­self full time to it when he re­tired from his au­to­mo­tive busi­nesses in 1997.

Ger­aghty co-founded the Na­tional Mu­seum of Wildlife Art in Jack­son, Wyo., and the Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica Mu­seum in Ker­rville, Texas. The lat­ter is now called the Mu­seum of West­ern Art.

He also pro­filed artists for West­ern Art Col­lec­tor mag­a­zine, pound­ing out for­mal yet folksy pieces on col­lect­ing paint­ings and sculp­tures of sage-dot­ted land­scapes, Na­tive Amer­i­can cer­e­monies, Chi­nese im­mi­grants work­ing on the rail­road and elk roam­ing moun­tain mead­ows.

“He had a tremen­dous ef­fect on how paint­ings were bought and sold,” said Joshua Rose, the mag­a­zine’s edi­tor.

His sur­vivors in­clude daugh­ter LeeAnn York, sons Steven Ger­aghty and John Ger­aghty, and nine grand­chil­dren. Sar­a­lynn Ger­aghty, his wife of 60 years, died in 2013.

‘He had ex­cel­lent taste and a great eye.’ — Howard Terp­n­ing, prom­i­nent painter of Na­tive Amer­i­cans

Ge­orge Wil­helm Los An­ge­les Times

ART AFI­CIONADO John J. Ger­aghty with the first piece of west­ern art he pur­chased, “Mov­ing On” by Frank McCarthy, which he bought in 1971.

Ger­aghty, a ma­jor col­lec­tor and the or­ga­nizer of the an­nual west­ern art sale at the Autry Mu­seum, died at age 85.

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