From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason

A product of the industrialized New South, Eugene Healan Thomason (1895–1972) made the obligatory pilgrimage to New York to advance his art education. Like so many other aspiring American artists in the early 1920s, he understood that the city offered unparalleled personal and professional opportunities—prestigious schools, ground-breaking teachers, and an intoxicating cosmopolitan milieu. The patronage of one of the nation’s most powerful tycoons, James B. Duke, afforded him entrance to the renowned Art Students League, where he fell under the influence of the leading members of the Ashcan School: Robert Henri, John Sloan, and, in particular, George Luks. In all, Thomason spent a decade in the city, adopting—and eventually adapting—the Ashcan movement’s gritty realistic aesthetic into a distinctive regionalist style that utilized thick paint and simple subject matter.

For reasons perhaps more circumstantial than calculated, Thomason returned to the South in the early 1930s. Following a brief stint as a portrait painter and teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, he settled in a small Appalachian crossroads called Nebo. For the next thirty-plus years, Thomason mined the rural landscape’s rolling terrain and area residents for inspiration, finding there an abundance of colorful imagery more evocative—and more personally resonant—than the urbanism of New York.

Painting at the same time as such well known Regionalists as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Eugene Thomason embraced and convincingly portrayed his own region, becoming the visual spokesman for that place and its people. Removed from the urban marketplace, he functioned outside of the art world mainstream, working and exhibiting—with rare exception—only in the Carolinas, and without consistent gallery representation that might have promoted his accomplishments. As a result, Thomason and his art have regrettably and undeservedly been overlooked. Yet, his story is a compelling one and its telling is long overdue.

Exhibition schedule: Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia, October 11, 2014–December 28, 2015; Spartanburg Art Museum, South Carolina, February 12–April 19, 2015; Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina, May 16–September 13, 2015; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina, November 21, 2015–March 27, 2016; and Florence County Museum, Florence, South Carolina, January 10–May 28, 2017.