Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ Unknown Muse

Sandi Zinaman, a prominent model in Jeffrey Catherine Jones' strip "Idyl." Courtesy of Patrick Hill.

You’ve seen her, but few people know her name.

She appears in some of Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ most famous paintings, notably The Wall (1977), Seated (1983), and the covers for fantasy books such as The Undying Wizard (1975). She was also the most prominent model for the idiosyncratic strip Idyl published by National Lampoon during the years 1972-1976. 

Yet, outside the artists’ circle of friends, almost no one knows anything about Jones’ most referenced, most enigmatic model: Sandi Zinaman (1952-2015), a librarian, artist and caterer who lived most of her life in New York state’s Hudson Valley. 

“She had a great aquiline forehead and very voluptuous lips. She was one of the rare beauties with this mass of red curls and long eyelashes. The shadows on her face—they were so long,” said Carol Zaloom, Zinaman’s longtime friend who was also a model for Jones.

My own interest in Zinaman came from an early painting (1981) that would evolve into Figure Locked in Motion (1985). This version of the piece adorned the cover of Mitch Itkowitz's Graphic Collectibles catalogue in December of 1991. There was a weight and grace and gravity to this woman, of whom nothing was written, so I set out to remedy that by calling Jones’ friends and colleagues.

The evolution of "Figure Locked in Motion" by Jeffrey Catherine Jones. Courtesy of Patrick Hill.

“Sandi was heavily involved with Idyl,” says Patrick Hill, a historical archivist and co-author of Jeffrey Jones: The Definitive Reference (2013). “Jones also took a tremendous amount of reference photography during that time, and some of the paintings came much later than ’74. [Zinaman] was an artist herself and was really easy to art direct, and Jones was doing a great deal of work in the mid-’70s.”

Zinaman wasn’t public about her modeling, but she didn’t hide it either. Her husband, Dan Green, was also a painter and an artist for DC and Marvel Comics and had used her in his own work. But, as Jones’ muse, Zinaman shows up in the work that would carry the artist from cartoonist and fantasy paperback illustrator to a revered painter in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition.

“Sandi stood the test of time, because of the untold number of photographs,” says Zaloom. “Sandi had a languid beauty...she was graceful without trying.”

From 1974-1976, Jones took hundreds of reference photos of Zinaman. This overlapped with Jones’ time as a member of The Studio (1976-1979), the fabled New York City space in the Chelsea district that she shared with Bernie Wrightson, Michael Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith. Famed artist Frank Frazetta called Jones “the greatest living painter,” and fellow illustrator Roy G. Krenkel called Jones the “master of the meaningless gesture,” a commentary on the unposed, natural composition of Jones’ figures, often personified in the artist’s work with Zinaman.

“Some of these poses are definitely Sandi,” says Zaloom. “Sandi was so archetypal.”

Sandi Zinaman, left, and "Reflection" (1987) by Jeffrey Catherine Jones. Courtesy of Patrick Hill.

Jones’ first marriage (1966-1975) was to Louise “Weezie” Simonson (née Alexander), who became an influential comic book writer and editor on titles like Superman, X-Men and Star Wars. Simonson was the first model for Idyl, a strange, poetic comic strip about a nude female figure wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape. The character would often pontificate about nature, relationships and the mysteries of life. In late 1974, Zinaman became the most prominent model for Idyl, although Jones made her pregnant in the illustrations.

“The character was a muse of nature, forever pregnant...but would never deliver the child,” says Zinaman’s daughter, Galen Green. “She was a child of nature.”

Green first came across the strip as a child and thought, “Wow, this really looks like Mom.” She says, “I loved it. I thought that it was so romantic and so daring, just quite cool.”

A detail of an "Idyl" page by Jeffery Catherine Jones from 1975, in the second-to-last episode.

Zinaman was a graduate of Flushing’s High School of Art and Design and an active member of the Jewish community. She served as the assistant director of upstate New York’s Stone Ridge Library for 34 years.

“Before there was Google, you could ask my mom anything about art, literature and music and she would have the answer,” remembers Green. “She had the most encyclopedic mind of anyone I’d ever met.”

Jones met Dan Green in New York City, and eventually lived with Green and his soon-to-be wife, Zinaman in 1974 for short time.

“Dan and Jeff had a studio together, and they both told me years later that it was the best time in their lives. They both couldn’t wait to go into the studio in the morning. And they fed off each other’s energy,” remembers Zaloom, who also dated Jones.

That’s another thing that sets Zinaman apart in the artist’s canon: She was one of the few models who wasn’t also romantically linked with Jones. (In 1998, Jones underwent hormone replacement therapy and added “Catherine” to her professional name shortly after. For more about Jones’ transition, read Cheryl Morgan’s insightful blog post here.) Jones’ longtime battle with alcohol and depression made the living arrangement with Zinaman and Green untenable, however. 

Cover for The Undying Wizard by Jeffrey Catherine Jones featuring the model Sandi Zinaman. Jones titled the painting In Deep.

But still, Zinaman remained a hugely influential part of Jones’ reference material, and her images appear in paintings as late as 1987. Jones was always quite protective of the models she used, although as time has passed, more scholarship about her models have come to light.

“She made everything quite beautiful in her wake,” says daughter Green of her mother.

Zinaman died suddenly of a heart attack in 2015, after a long Thanksgiving weekend and a catering job. 

“I use her recipes weekly, read books she told me about, enjoy my goddaughter [Galen Green]....and I’m not alone. Her list of dear friends is impressive,” Zaloom says. “I guess her longest lasting legacy is the vast number of paintings she appears in.”

But what would Zinaman think of the attention she’s getting now?

“[This] article would amuse her,” Zaloom says. “She’d act as though it were silly but secretly be thrilled.”