Saturday, February 16, 2013

Abbott H. Thayer | Exhibition Catalog

Cover of Thayer exhibition catalog (2013)

I feel very fortunate to have been able to contribute the introduction to the full-color catalog for a current exhibition about the camouflage-related work of American painter Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921). The richly-illustrated catalog, titled Abbott Handerson Thayer: A Beautiful Law of Nature, has just been published by Gold Leaf Studios in Washington DC, and can now be purchased online, either as a printed softbound book or a pdf download. It was edited and designed by Ari Post who is the Project and Exhibits Manager at Gold Leaf Studios.

Inside its pages are nearly fifty reproductions of rarely-seen art works and other artifacts by Thayer, whose research of animal coloration led to his popular designation (in news accounts) as the "father of camouflage." In 1949, his family gave to the Smithsonian Institution about one hundred items, many of which were his experimental studies of both natural and military camouflage. Fortunately, these priceless research artifacts have survived all these years, but the majority of them have never been exhibited publicly nor even reproduced in books. As the examples in this catalog show, this seemingly small exhibition is in truth a potentially major event. And it's something we can all share, because the current exhibition is at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg VA, a short drive from the nation's capital. The exhibit opened recently, on February 1, and continues through May 26, 2013.

Interior page spread

In addition to my introduction, the catalog also offers an insightful discussion of Thayer as an observer of nature by a prominent British zoologist, Martin Stevens (recently co-editor of a pivotal book, titled Animal Camouflage: Mechanisms and Function), and a thoughtful essay on Thayer's work as an artist and its significance by art historian William Kloss, a well-known authority on European and American art.

Interior page spread

There are several other sections of equal fascination (also written by Ari Post), including one on Thayer's grasp of the "laws of nature," his attempts to design military camouflage (both soldiers' uniforms and disruptive ship camouflage), his insatiable interest in the appearance of animals, and (appropriately, given the role of Gold Leaf Studios in enabling this event) the principles by which exquisitely suitable frames are designed for the paintings of someone of Thayer's achievement.

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