Partner Morris Graves

Queer Places:
5741 Twin Maple Ln NE, Seattle, WA 98105

Richard John Svare (March 28, 1930 - April 24, 2004) was an accomplished vocalist, teacher and actor, known for Pretty Smart (1987), Bare et liv - historien om Fridtjof Nansen (1968) and Olympus Force: The Key (1988). Within a few years of the end of his relationship with Paul Mills, Morris Graves met Richard Svare and had a long-term, productive relationship with him.

Richard John Svare grew up in Tacoma and got some preparation for his international lifestyle early-on. His father, pastor Trygve Svare of Trinity Lutheran in Tacoma, served as cultural attaché to Norway and Svare attended the University of Norway at Oslo for post-graduate work in theater, specializing in the plays of Ibsen. Before that, he studied at University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University, where he graduated in 1950. Svare studied voice at PLU and privately in Oslo, where he trained with Ellen Schytte-Jacobsen, known for teaching the great Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad. He worked in Oslo as a translator and currier for the 1952 Winter Olympics ski-jumping teams. Languages came easily to Svare. Besides English, he spoke Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, French, German and Greek. "It helps to be musical," he explained. Growing up, Svare sang with the church choir at Trinity Lutheran. He was a soloist at the PLU choir and in 1952 joined the Compline Choir at Seattle's St. Mark's Cathedral, where he sang for two years. He also taught drama and English at Cleveland High School during that time.

It was Richard’s cousin, Dale Keller, who introduced Svare to Morris Graves during the completion of Careläden, one of Graves' houses, in 1951. Richard, a voice major at University of Washington, fell deeply and swiftly under the charismatic spell of Morris Graves. Though twenty years younger, he became intricately involved with the day-to-day minutia in the life of an internationally celebrated artist, acting as companion, organizer, secretary, and confidant. Through Graves, Svare got to know artist Mark Tobey. Tobey and Graves had a famously competitive relationship, but Svare said he never witnessed any strife. Graves would occasionally invite Tobey to dinner, then drive down to Seattle to get him (Tobey didn't drive).

In 1954, Svare left the Northwest art scene behind to move to Ireland with Graves. Increasingly frustrated by the post-World War II development around his Edmonds property, Graves wanted to escape to a quieter place. His "Machine Age Noise" paintings of the early '50s express his rage at the encroaching bulldozers and chainsaws. Svare and Graves moved to County Cork, where they bought and restored Woodtown Manor (near Dublin), a 35-acre country estate with an imposing stone house built in 1750. "They lived a very exciting life: traveling, meeting people," said their friend, Jan Thompson. "They had a special bond." Movie director John Huston also had a house in Ireland, and Svare and Graves spent much time with the Huston family during those years. They often visited Paris, including a 1961 trip for Tobey's show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre.

In 1963 Morris had become disenchanted. He needed change, more solitude. He returned to the United States in search of what became known as The Lake, his last habitation in Northern California. accompany Morris but moved to Stockholm where he founded and directed the Scandinavian Theater Company, a professional English language repertory theatre based in Stockholm. Among the actors who performed with the touring company were Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud, E.G. Marshall, Sada Thompson and Esther Rolle. Svare didn't like to talk about what prompted his move, but said he felt he needed to be doing his own work again. He and Graves remained close friends.

In 1969, Svare acted in the Russian film "One Life" and later moved to the Greek island of Corfu, where he helped organize an annual arts festival. He appeared in a number of European feature films and Euro Television productions, including "Drifting Cities." He migrated to Athens, Greece and spent two decades as an actor, interrupted briefly as Administrative Director for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in New York City in 1976-78. He was somewhat of a local celebrity in Athens, having appeared in numerous Greek and European film and television productions, as well as various commercials. He was living in a modest apartment not too far from the Pláka, along with his two Lhasa Apso dogs, both of which had easily extracted Richard’s absolute devotion; he adored them. In fact, when he planned to return to the United States, he couldn’t bear the idea the dogs would have to fly in cargo. He had heard somewhere that the captain of an air flight could decide if a small pet could ride topside, beneath the legs of a doting owner. He spent weeks chasing this possibility, which, of course, did not pan out at all.

When he moved back to Seattle, he moved in to his old family home in the Ravenna area, in the basement where he had spent a part of his boyhood. His older sister, Betty, was living upstairs. He wrote Morris Graves: His Houses, His Gardens, for which one of the more difficult tasks before him was to severely edit out the significant extent of his deep, personal relationship with Graves. He had no intention of thickening the book with personal anecdotes or explicating those historical events that amplified Graves as an eccentric recluse. While the book doesn’t approach the paintings of Morris Graves, it does go into detail about those things that were absolutely necessary for Morris to make the paintings. Richard set about not only describing the physical habitations of Morris Graves, two of which he shared with Morris, but also the nearly insurmountable difficulties in realizing all four—The Rock, Careläden, Woodtown Manor, and The Lake. Also he detailed the reasons Morris became disenchanted with one place then left it for another. Even though they parted their physical ‘union’ in the 1960’s, they communicated frequently by phone until Morris Graves died in 2001. Clearly a well of mutual respect and trust had deepened between them.

Svare also wrote works concerning ancient gardens. Titles of his manuscripts include:" The Gardens of Greece: Known and Unknown"," The Forgotten Gardens of Byzantium"," Voyages: The Sea- A Literary Photographic Collection of the Sea"," Hoi Polloi", and a number of other short stories and poems. Svare also authored an introduction to Galen Garwood's multi-media production of" Adagio", presented at the Washington State Historical Society's "The Memory and Mourning of Artists" in 1997.

Svare died on April 24, 2004, of lung cancer at his Seattle home, after a lifetime of involvement in the arts. With his trained voice, crop of snowy hair and courteous manner, Svare was known for his kindness, wit and intelligent conversation, as well as his generous support of other artists. Svare spent the last decade of his life in Seattle, but for most of his adult years, he lived in Europe, often in the company of accomplished people, including movie director John Huston, and actors Alan Bates, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Laurence Olivier. He loved to recall the time, in 1957, when he and Graves were bidden to Paris for Thanksgiving with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They arrived at the opulent house by cab an hour late. Svare remembered the scene vividly: "The Duke came running down this great staircase with all the pugs running after him, saying 'I'm so sorry — we have the most impossible place to find!' " Svare said. "It was the height of noblesse oblige. He was incredibly polite." The meal, of course, was incredible, too, served on table linens as sheer as handkerchiefs. The turkey arrived at the table already carved and perfectly reassembled. Ten people attended the dinner, mostly Americans, and Svare sat near the Duchess, to her left. "She kept a little gold notebook and gold pencil at her place and each time something went wrong or she didn't like something, she'd make a little note," he said. "She picked her teeth with a gold toothpick."

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