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 Thomas King Baker  (1911 - 1972)

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Lived/Active: Missouri      Known for: mod naive figure-genre, collage

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Ad Code: 4
Thomas King Baker
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An artist known for evoking Kansas City life in the 1950s, Thomas Baker was not appreciated during his lifetime but discovered as having significant artistic merit in the 1990s by art dealer Tom McCormick. Born in Pittsburgh in 1911, Baker took a job out of high school as an insurance underwriter and married Mila Hoover, a Radcliffe graduate with a degree in art history and an assistant to the Director of the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

During World War II, he was drafted and sent to England where he worked as a clerk and then returned to his insurance job in Kansas City. He and his wife became close friends of artist Fred James and his wealthy wife, Diana Hearne, and they visited them frequently at their second home on Martha's Vineyard. Childless, the Bakers became relatively prosperous and collected art, much of it later gifted to the Nelson-Atkins Museum. They were the first local collectors to purchase a Thomas Hart Benton work after Benton returned from teaching in New York.

On the surface a conforming man, Thomas Baker devoted much of his spare time to creating whimsical, satirical, naive social genre paintings that revealed his boredom with his day job. His only formal training was a brief night art class, and his career seems to have started in 1953 when his wife purchased watercolors for him. He did his sketching on cheap dime store notepads and painted on odd scraps of wood. Often his work would reveal tension between the realism and allegory or would be a satire on recent fads.

He never exhibited his paintings with the quality artwork he and his wife collected but kept it in the basement and sold it for several dollars each. Great party goers, he and his wife both died from the effects of alcohalism, he at home in 1972 in the breakfast nook where he did his painting. Some critics view his artwork as more than any other regionalist capturing the tedium of the 1950s, the period of blandness and affluence when art interests were considered highly unusual.

Henry Adams, 'Thomas King Baker', "American Art Review", April 1997

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