From New York to Nebo is an in-depth study of the life, subjects and style of the “Ashcan artist of Appalachia,” Eugene Healan Thomason (1895–1972). A product of the industrialized New South, Thomason as a young man in the 1920s made the pilgrimage to New York to advance his art education and launch his career. Like so many other aspiring American artists, he understood that the city offered unparalleled personal and professional opportunities — prestigious schools, groundbreaking teachers and an intoxicating cosmopolitan milieu. He began his studies at the Art Students League, where he fell under the influence of the leading members of the Ashcan School, including Robert Henri, John Sloan and George Luks. In all Thomason spent a decade in the city, adopting — and eventually adapting — the Ashcan movement’s gritty realistic aesthetic into a distinctive regionalist style that used thick paint and simple subject matter.
Thomason returned to the South in the early 1930s, living first in Charlotte, NC, before settling in a small Appalachian crossroads called Nebo, located about halfway between Asheville and Hickory. For the next thirty-plus years, he mined the rural landscape’s rolling terrain and area residents for inspiration, finding an abundance of colorful imagery more evocative, and more personally resonant, than the urbanism of New York. Thomason embraced and convincingly portrayed his own region, becoming the visual spokesman for that place and its people.
This exhibition was organized by The Johnson Collection in Spartanburg, SC. The Johnson Collection is the largest repository of art by Thomason. This exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue written by art historian Martha R. Severens.