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Juanita looking striking – Picasso called her “La Petite Garbo”

Tribute to Juanita Homan

14 May 1931–15 April 2021

Patrick Glass pays tribute to a woman who will be missed by the local community as well as by her family and many friends.

Juanita’s parents honeymooned at Juan les Pins on the Cote D’Azur, South East France. That is why she was named Juanita. She was born in Hornchurch where her father, Archie Page, was a kindly and highly successful barrister. Margery, her mother, was something of an ‘it girl’ – she enjoyed the high life – cocktails, parties, dancing and gambling.

Archie designed a large modern house and Juanita’s childhood was idyllic.  She distinctly remembers meeting George Bernard Shaw and sitting on his knee while visiting the seaside in Essex.  Juanita was very close to her father – the apple of his eye. Her twin siblings, Anthea and Robin, were two years younger than her. However, life changed utterly when she was sent at 11 to accompany her brother to his Boys’ Prep School, near Cardiff. She hated it. Juanita showed great independence by trying to persuade her fellow students to collectively rebel and run away. Come the day, only one boy accompanied her on the escape. Alas, they soon had to give themselves up because they were hungry… and a large search party were after them.  Wonder what became of that boy? Juanita was surprised to see her old School in a TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (2017).  She’d be pleased to know the buildings are now occupied by Cardiff Montessori School.

Tragically, a year later, when Juanita was 12 – while away at boarding school – her father died of TB. Times were then very difficult for the family.  They had to sell their lovely home and Juanita was sent to the Royal Masonic School – then still called ‘Institution’ – for Girls.

Founded in 1788, it was for the daughters of impoverished Freemasons. Set in 300 acres in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, the school has wonderful facilities. Juanita flourished at the school and made some lifelong friends including Anne Lechmere – who sadly can’t be with us today. The school curriculum focussed on the practical – with sowing and cooking, sport and exercise to the fore. On YouTube, there’s a 28 minute film about the RMS for Girls which vividly depicts school-life in the 1940s. In the film, we think it is Juanita posing – yes, fully clothed – in an art class (RMS for Girls Documentary, 1940s, narrated by (Brother) Freddie Grisewood, the Broadcaster).  The school had low ambition for the students.  Juanita said they were simply to be good wives and mothers. Juanita excelled at tennis and swimming.  She recalls being chosen to present to Queen Mary, the Queen Mother.

We believe that Juanita is the life model in this class

Juanita modelling

In 1948, Juanita went to Kingston College of Art. Aged 21, in 1952, she took herself to Paris. There she studied under the famous Russian sculptor, Ossip Zadkine. The current RMS News has an article on Juanita’s painting comparing it with Zadkine’s sculpture. It was an exciting time to be in Paris. Among the artists she met was Picasso. She clearly made an impression on him as he called her ‘La Petite Garbo’. She frequented the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots where Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre held court. Juanita’s paintings were often multi-coloured abstracts with a figurative bent. She had a fine line and composed arresting nudes. Charlotte [Snook] has written a good appreciation of Juanita’s art on the Hastings Arts Forum’s website.

When she returned to England she continued her studies at Camberwell and Sir John Cass School of Art.

Juanita striking a pose

Juanita loved travel.  She went to Russia in the eighties with her friend, Sue Hunt.  But her first love was Greece.  It was there, in her thirties, that she met her husband, Robert, a teacher and budding novelist.  Robert was tall, extremely handsome, and a Cambridge graduate. They made a striking couple. There were idyllic holidays in Greece where they became friends with Leonard Cohen and Marianne [Ihlen].

They married in Chelsea Registry Office in 1965 and settled in Penzance. It was a tough struggle financially. Robert was often away in Kenya as he’d become a Colonial Officer and Juanita had to teach – and even picked daffodils on the Scilly Isles to make ends meet. All the while having to bring up three small children. Robert was a good father to Sam, Hetty, and Sara. And he published four novels. Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce in 1979 and, surprisingly for the time, Robert got custody of the children.  Separated from her children for six years – they visited her in the holidays – this was an especially difficult time for Juanita.

Remarkably, Juanita soon picked herself up and did a degree in Art and Design at Goldsmiths.  She taught at Holland Park Comprehensive – where she stood out, being the only Daily Telegraph reader in the Labour Party’s model Comprehensive School.  She rented out her flat in Kensington, and slept on friends’ floors while she kept up her studio in Spitalfields. And where she lived illegally for two years. Juanita was a dedicated artist – first and foremost.

In 1985, Juanita took early retirement from teaching and founded Rubicon Press with her sister, Anthea.  It proved very successful.  Anthea was an Egyptologist, so the first three books were on Egyptology.  Juanita illustrated the books with fine line drawings.  She was a meticulous editor and a perfectionist. Her son, Sam, drove Juanita and Anthea around the country to Universities and book fairs. Rubicon Press published over 30 books – a shelf of books – in 14 years and voluntarily folded when Anthea retired in 1999. Rubicon Press was a considerable achievement – and should be better known.

Recuperating from a serious illness, Juanita came down to St Leonards to be with her daughters. Now, she finally had time to indulge her love of art and literature.  She did a two year course in art at Hastings College (2004–6) in which she was the star pupil. She took Rose [Miller’s] University of Sussex Extension Course on Literature in 2007 – which was the basis of what became the Book Club. The Poetry Group arose from this.  Juanita showed at the Hastings Arts Forum (HAF), SoCo, and the Coastal Currents Festival.  Never wealthy, she gave (anonymously) £1000 to Hastings Arts Forum so that it might survive.  And she loved going up to London to the National Theatre, the Royal Academy, and the Tate.

This brief outline illustrates Juanita’s admirable independence, enterprise, resilience, and dedication. But what was she really like?  Each of us will have different memories of her.  She loved life. A consummate host and generous to a fault.  A marvellous mother to Sam, Hetty, and Sara.  When young, she gave them rolls of paper to draw on and endless bedtime stories. She encouraged them to play Chess and Scrabble.  Significantly, she always stressed the importance of the imagination and creativity.  And this is manifest in Hetty’s poetry and Sara’s [Sassy Luke’s] unique art and interior design.  Juanita was a fun-loving and hands-on grandmother. Naturally, she was proud of Ossian’s acting achievements.  She’d supported him through Italia Conti Drama School in London. Ossian has appeared in East Enders, Casualty, and is currently in Fr Brown.  Iona worked for the Conquest Hospital and has completed her first year at Brighton University and she often discussed assignments with Juanita. And, of course, Iona didn’t always agree with Juanita’s advice!  And Juanita was really pleased that Assisi found her vocation in Care Work.

Juanita loved nature.  She was pained if a tree she liked was cut down or pollarded. With Kate [Cosgrove], Alison [Hooper], or myself driving, she loved seeing the English countryside and particularly visiting Ashburnham, Penhurst – not Penshurst  – Fairlight, and Salehurst Halt. She was endlessly fascinated by her friends.  When friends fell out, she was invariably loyal to all of them. Juanita was always ‘toujours la politesse’ as my father used to say – always polite – never wishing to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Juanita had a unique charm coupled with a rare shyness and modesty. In her looks, innocence, and enthusiasms, she reminded me of Debo, Duchess of Devonshire, the youngest and most engaging of the six Mitford sisters.  She loved putting people together.  She was ‘a Tory in a Sea of Lefties’ (Our Celebrant’s apt description of Juanita. Thank you, Kate). Yet, she always wanted open discussion and – importantly – interesting conversation. And she became the occasion for both.

Juanita inspired love and admiration.  She had the strongest aesthetic sense. She thought visually and her judgements were intuitive.  And she was a fair judge of people. Rose [Miller] tells me she surprised the Book Group sometimes with her forthright – indeed shocking – views on some books. She said I must read Patrick White’s Voss (1957) – the last book discussed by the Book Group at her flat. She had an amazing ability to correct the writings of others.  Kate [Cosgrove] says she always checked her emails to Juanita three times before sending them.

Interestingly, Juanita had endearing turns of phrase. Once she surprised Hetty by saying: ‘You look a $100!’.  That’s not a Malapropism, or a Spoonerism. A Homanism or a Juanitaism, perhaps? That is: a popular phrase slightly awry, or askew.  In this case, Hetty may have felt a little short-changed!

Discussing possible vocations in a humorous way, Hetty once told Juanita that she’d like to be a doctor, but she didn’t have the patience. Then added that she wanted to be a lumberjack, but they saw through her. Quick as a flash, Juanita replied: ‘I wanted to be a Ski Instructor, but I couldn’t take the piste…’

We’ve all benefitted from Juanita’s friendship, kindness, generosity and love. As Elizabeth [Nathaniels] says, she was ‘a wonderful hostess’. A superb mediator between friends.  She stood by her friends – particularly those in need.  What I’d not understood – and only briefly alluded to – is the awful setbacks and heartaches that she lived through.  No one can fully comprehend another’s life. Juanita was a Stoic.  She said so herself. She never complained of her own misfortunes. But she was keen to right those of her family and friends. ‘A real trooper’ one friend [Caroline Gee] called her.  She had a rare generosity of spirit.  And to her friends she was a Life-Enhancer.  She sought out and supported writers and artists.  Curious to the last.

Juanita also loved entertaining her family and friends in her splendid flat on the first floor of Baston Lodge, Alan Turing’s childhood home. Nicky [Urling Clark] tells me, when entering St Leonards Gardens, Juanita would say: ‘Et In Arcadia Ego’ – ‘I …too lived in Arcadia’.

Rumer Godden states in her autobiography A House with Four Rooms: ‘There is an Indian Proverb that says everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person’.

I think Juanita kept her four rooms well aired.

Patrick Glass

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Posted 17:36 Wednesday, Jun 9, 2021 In: Hastings People

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