“From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason,” an exhibition of Thomason’s paintings on display until March 27 at Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, N.C., pays homage to the historical ties between the museum and the artist.
When The Mint Museum opened in 1936, Thomason (1895-1972) was one of the most significant artists working in Charlotte, and one of the region’s strongest advocates for contemporary art. Further, in 1937, The Mint Museum dedicated one of its first exhibitions to Thomason. The scheduling of “From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason” is also fortuitous for its present-day timing, given The Mint Museum is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.
The Johnson Collection, one of the most extensive collections of art from the American South from the late 18th century to today, organized “From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason.” All the paintings come from The Johnson Collection in Spartanburg, S.C., except for three – one from The Mint Museum itself, and the other two from Greenville County Museum of Art and Morris Museum of Art.
“Thomason was a catalyst in the 1930s art scene,” said Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, the Mint’s senior curator of American, modern, and contemporary art.
That said, Thomason was – and remains – less well known than some other North Carolina artists and colleagues because he operated outside of the mainstream art world. “He was humble, and didn’t aspire to sell his art and participate in the gallery system,” Stuhlman noted.
Early on, the promising young artist secured an opportunity to paint a portrait of industrialist James B. Duke. Impressed with Thomason’s work, Duke sponsored his artistic studies in New York, where he absorbed the realism aesthetic of the Ashcan School. While there, Thomason matured thanks, in particular, to the influence of his mentor, artist George Luks.
Returning to Charlotte and subsequently moving to Nebo in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Thomason executed vigorous, energetic depictions of people, places and activities. He responded directly to the subject in front of him, and captured its vitality and dynamism using powerful brush strokes and heavy applications of paint. Finesse, academic finish and fine detail were not his métier.
In another brush with history, Thomason was present at the rally in Charlotte in 1936 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched his re-election campaign. Thomason was quite taken with the speech, and rushed to his studio to paint the scene.
As a side note, Roosevelt stopped at the soon-to-open The Mint Museum, and his signature is the first one recorded in the museum’s 1936 guest book.
Thanks to The Mint Museum and “From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason,” the telling of Thomason’s long overdue story is a welcome occasion for art aficionados.
When you go
Mint Museum Uptown
500 South Tryon Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
Click here for other articles by Mary Gilbert. You also can read her travel stories on her blog, The Roads Traveled, at theroadstraveled.com.