Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Visit with the Unusual Abbott Thayer Family

Angel by Abbott Thayer

You know Abbott Thayer, the artist who is known for his work on camouflage?! He was evidently very charismatic, but perhaps a little...well...eccentric. Enjoy reading Cecilia Beaux' account of her encounter with him.
Abbott Thayer's words were passed on to me by his pupils, who often never guessed the value to me of their gift, and when we finally met, he had no idea of having assisted me. I shall always regret, however, that I did not hear him in class, for his utterance, by word, was a fine and subtle in its simplicity as was his compelling personality.
I visited the Thayers at Dublin, and was admitted to the untrammelled, and so diverse, particularity of their living. Mrs. Thayer, who was the most cheerful of invalids, lived, slept, and cooked her own breakfast, in a piano-box on the edge of the woods. Mr. Thayer and Gladys, the only members of the family at home, at bedtime disappeared, each with a lantern, down the narrowest of paths to their forest retreats.

I occupied the house alone. John, or William, the only servitor, lived in his own house down the hill. All doors and windows were open, of course. By day, the house was full of visitors; Mr. Thayer was not working at the moment, but understanding between us was complete and immediate, and although we walked off upon the mountain-side, words were little needed. Once we were followed by two ladies, and AT's efforts at flight were touching. He showed me some of his investigations in the field of the concealing power of their brilliant coloring, in birds; and the essential importance of his stripes, black and white, for the safety of the zebra, while drinking.I was obliged to leave at an early morning hour, and Mr. Thayer cooked my breakfast, calling up to know if I liked my egg hard or soft. I longed to stay and drop off encumbering habits, but, alas, can our complicated humanity shake off one impediment without inventing another?
Abbott Thayer spent his creative years in a search which precluded his prolonged attention to other aspects of Nature, and which he found in his young daughters, Elise Pumpelly, and one or two other friends and neighbors. He was fortunate in having the material he desired so constantly near him. The remote and fundamental beauty which he found in these types alone satisfied him, was alone worthy to be sought for and expressed by him.
He saw ultimate realities of structure, of a rare equity and proportion, in the young, firm, or tender, and sometimes wistful, countenances of these subjects. The material of his painting, modeling, and the surfaces of his form were rich in quality, chiefly. He could do without what is known as color. The swan's plumage in light; the idea of light, only, on dark objects; these were sufficient for the limits of his scale, in which not one fractional passage was out of place. His hand, his tool, was sometimes heavy; he went crashing through the metier to carve a tender eyelid or cheek. How stimulating is his passage from dream to substance! How commanding his vision!"
Abbott Thayer's desire was toward monumental works. He saw his large pictures as balanced, static compositions. But his profound insight was intimate. It was a rare and synthetic type of beauty that he saw to do, but his expression of this was as intimate as his feeling toward it. He never sacrificed this to the generalization almost demanded by a monumental and strictly balanced group, and one is glad to let him have his way. How serious, how silent, how unconscious are these young creatures - unhandled Nature: yet something emanates from their human features which will be know to them later - which life will not spare them."
from Background with Figures by Cecilia Beaux

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