Friday, June 7, 2013

Abbott Thayer's Bald Head

Above Recently we ran across this photograph from a 19th-century stereograph of an artist in his studio, entertaining his children (more likely, he has fallen asleep at the easel). The little boy is painting a face on his father's bald head. It may have been a common amusement, because it also occurs in the story below.


Nelson C. White, Abbott H. Thayer: Painter and Naturalist. Hartford CT: Connecticut Printers, 1951, p. 99—

Although Thayer's prevailing mood was intensely serious when absorbed with his painting, he liked to relax and share their amusements with his children. Indeed he sometimes excelled them in the invention of fanciful nonsense, as when his daughter Gladys painted the face of an Irishman on the back of Thayer's bald head, the scant dark fringe of his remaining hair serving for the beard. When he entered the room walking backwards and giving life to this grotesque apparition by flexing the muscles of his scalp it was startlingly effective. He also made small sculpted animals out of bread at the table by way of showing the cook good-naturedly that her bread was doughy. With [his student] Louis Fuertes and [Thayer's son] Gerald, he drew composite portraits of imaginary birds and animals by combining the assorted heads and tails of pelicans, alligators, and other unrelated species at random and giving them pseudo-scientific names.