Thiebaud the storyteller
December 28, 2021 § Leave a comment
FIRST PERSON | THOMAS REYNOLDS
Everybody who met Wayne Thiebaud came away with a story. I’m no exception.
Quite a few years ago, the California Historical Society mounted an exhibition of plein-air paintings by the great 19th century California artist Thomas Hill. Most of Hill’s paintings are grand landscapes of the Yosemite valley. But these were small oil sketches done on location. As part of the exhibition program, there was to be a talk by the legendary 20th century California artist Wayne Thiebaud. It seemed an odd pairing.
Of course I went. Thiebaud began with one of Hill’s paintings of tents turned upside down, to show its abstract qualities. It was a magnificent talk, full of observations and insights, delivered with wry humor. Afterward I went up to shake the great man’s hand and tell him how thoroughly he had overcome my doubts that he — the master of pies and cakes and gumball machines — should speak about such an old-fashioned landscape painter.
“Let me tell you a story,” he replied. “I used to kick around junk stores and antique shops in Sacramento. One day I came upon a little landscape painting. I thought to myself, ‘By golly, this looks like Thomas Hill.’ So I bought it. And I’ve learned more from that little painting than nearly anything else I’ve come across in my long life.”
Thiebaud’s stories usually finished with a punchline, and this one was no exception.
“And I got it for only $2,” he smiled.