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 Clara Fargo Thomas  (1891 - 1970)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: mural paintings, historical scenes

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Clara Fargo Thomas
Don Quixote
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Biography from Bradford Trust Fine Arts:
Clara Fargo Thomas came  from the Wells Fargo family of Fargo, North Dakota.  Although she lived her adult life as part of New York Society, she made her mark for doing large, colorful and unusual murals.

According to newspaper articles, Clara concentrated on music as a child, but took up painting and taught herself to be an artist.  “I painted everything from cellar to ceiling”, she said, “and I learned by wanting to do it”.  Clara Thomas is known for the ceilings, panels, screens and large murals, all with the common theme of telling a story, usually with  historical references.

She married New York real estate developer J.B. Thomas in a society-style wedding in 1915.  In May of 1929, Mr. Thomas secured the Wanamaker Auditorium in New York to display an exhibition of her mural paintings, including 10 scale models of the murals and designs in important rooms in estate homes is such places Tuxedo Park,  New York, York Harbor, Maine, New Jersey and New York City.  In addition, there were works done for commercial companies such as a huge map done for a steamship company, a set of maps designed for the office of Percy A. Rockefeller in the Cunard Building and offices in the Knickerbocker Building. 

Clara’s  first major work was a  mural consisting of 14 panels that was commissioned by Mrs. Elizabeth Graham Lewis, more commonly know as the cosmetics icon Elizabeth Arden.  This artwork A Pageant of Beauty,  honoring  125 women known through history for their beauty,  was first exhibited at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1935.  The exhibit toured other places in the U.S. including Chicago, Kansas City, Washington, D.C. and overseas in London.

Subsequent commissions for her included Freedom of the Press for the Chicago Tribune Building in 1936,  a large decoration for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s Exhibition  and The World of Steel for the U.S. Steel Corporation’s Pavilion  at the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and decorated the Royal Suite in Grosvener House, London.  She also painted portraits, including one of Republican Nominee Wendell Wilkie and such notables as Elizabeth Arden, Elsa Maxwell, Eddy Duchin and Paul Draper.

Clara spent a great deal of time on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, painted murals in many of the homes and was active in getting a musical concert series started there.

A New York Times article wrote”…Mrs. Thomas is accomplishing something to-day that no other American woman has attempted in the way of mural and architectural decoration…”.  It is for this that she is remembered.

Sheila Mennell Bradford Trust Fine Art.

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