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.
When Thiebaud came to San Francisco
December 27, 2021 § 1 Comment
LEGENDARY SAN FRANCISCO gallery owner Charles Campbell on how he became friends with Wayne and Betty Jean Thiebaud:
They were close friends for a long time. At one time they’d come down to San Francisco, living in Sacramento as their permanent residence, and they’d stay in a hotel and would drive back. A few times we got them to stay with us at our house instead of going back or staying in a hotel, and they liked Potrero Hill. They started looking around and found a little house on the hill they bought. It’s like two minutes away from our house. At least twice a month, we entertain back and forth.
Wayne does paintings that are 5 feet by 4, and works in a space that’s not as big as our front room. In San Francisco now, his studio is in the basement of that house. It’s probably got 6-foot or 7-foot ceilings, and he’s very comfortable there. In fact, the new house next door, which they are selling to [their son] Paul Thiebaud, was to be part of his studio, but after a couple of months he just felt he would go back to that smaller, cozier space.
He works all the time, drawing, sketches, watercolors, big paintings.
— Excerpted from “A Life of Art, Jazz and Travel,” an oral history of Charles Campbell conducted by Joan Bossart, 1992-1994, in the Bancroft Library.