Thomas B. Cornell

Thomas B. Cornell, Richard E. Steele Artist-in-Residence Emeritus, died on December 7, 2012, in Brunswick, Maine, of cancer.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 1, 1937. He earned his undergraduate degree at Amherst College in 1959 and later studied at the Yale School of Art and Architecture. He began his teaching career at the University of California in Santa Barbara in 1960. Two years later, he accepted an invitation to establish a program in visual arts at Bowdoin. He also served as a lecturer at Princeton University (1969-71) and directed the EPYQRSXIW  &3;(3-27911)6 Summer Art School at Massa Lubrense in Sorrento, Italy, in 1967. At Bowdoin he was promoted to assistant professor in 1963, associate professor in 1969, full professor in 1975, and was named Richard E. Steele Professor of Studio Art in 2001. In 2008, he was named Richard E. Steele Artist-in-Residence, and Emeritus upon his retirement in June 2012. He was best known early in his career for his drawings and etchings, including the series of 21 portraits of important figures in the French Revolution for Gahenna Press’s The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf, along with images of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. He turned to painting for his triptych The Dance of Death (a commentary on the war in Vietnam), for a series of paintings on The Birth of Nature, and for a commission of large paintings on The Four Ages for the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. His work has been featured in nearly 20 solo exhibitions and five dozen group exhibitions, including the first group exhibition of American art shown in the Soviet Union, in 1989. His essays about his art provide invaluable insights into the complex intersection of intentionality and vision in the mind of a remarkable artist. He continued to be a source of creativity throughout his career; his painting Dependency on Nature and the Death of War was shown at The Annual: 2012 exhibit at the National Academy Museum & School in New York. As part of the museum’s renovation, his name, along with other National Academy members, is carved into the ceiling of the building’s entrance. His works are included in prominent collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University, Princeton University, the Beinicke Library at Yale University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Mitsubishi Corporation, and the National Museum of American Art, as well as in many private collections. He was the recipient of many fellowships, grants, and awards over the course of his career, was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1984, and also served as president of the Union of Maine Visual Artists. Throughout his career, he infused his art with optimism and with the belief that meaningful interaction with nature and the environment may provoke positive changes in humanity. He was an inspiring teacher, a mentor to many young artists, and a passionate advocate for art as a way to promote service to the common good. Recurring themes in his work are declarations against war and the healing power of familial love and affection, particularly between fathers and children. As he explained it: “If the father can see himself as playing with children, he’s not going to be as willing to be a warrior.” He is survived by his wife, Christa K. Cornell ’75; daughters Olivia and Diana; and son Nicholas.

1 Comment Thomas B. Cornell

  1. Harry Thomas

    Many years ago, my beloved teacher, Lee Gerlach, gave me a portrait of Frederick Douglass by Thomas Cornell.
    We framed it, and hung it in our living room. Then today I purchased at auction a bronze bas relief by Cornell.
    A happy day.


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