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 Celia Laighton Thaxter  (1835 - 1894)

About: Celia Laighton Thaxter
 

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Lived/Active: New Hampshire      Known for: floral painting and china designs

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Ad Code: 4
Celia Laighton Thaxter
from Auction House Records.
Vase Decorated With Olive
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Celia Laighton Thaxter, poet, painter and china decorator, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and was raised on Appledore, White Island of the Isles of Shoal, ten miles from the place where her father, Thomas Laighton, was keeper of the lighthouse.   She was a lonely child as few people were around.  The rugged natural beauty of the islands inspired her popular poetry and painting during the nineteenth century.

In 1852 when Celia Laighton was sixteen, she married Levi Thaxter, a Harvard graduate who was eleven years older than she and who had served as a tudor for her and her siblings while he pursued a planning project to build a hotel with her father on Appledore Island.   Levi was the most educated person Celia had met, and she was more than willing to commit herself to his companionship.   The marriage took place on the Isle in the Appledore House Hotel, the successful project of her husband and father.  

The couple had three sons early in their marriage, which was never a very satisfactory relationship for either of them because of their disparate goals, especially disagreements about where they would live.   She loved the place where she had been raised, but he wanted to move to Newtonville, Massachusetts, which they did and which caused her much unhappiness and led to her returning home frequently with her children.  The couple vied for the attention of their sons, with her focusing on the oldest, Karl, who had nearly died at birth when she was seventeen, and with Levi spending much time with the two younger boys on trips to collect bird and animal specimen's for museums.

In Newtonville, she wrote a poem, Land Locked, about her frustration with her life of household chores and being away from her parents and brothers.  Her husband found the poem, and sent it to his friend James Russell Lowell, editor of The Atlantic Magazine, who published it.  She received immediate adulation and for public circulation continued to write about the wonders of the natural world.  One of her poems, Little Sandpiper and I, was popular with children.

The attention she received for her writing brought many interesting people into her life, and she entertained them at The Appledore House that she helped manage with her family.  The Appledore House, known for its extensive flower gardens, slept three-hundred persons and hosted such noted figures as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Childe Hassam, Richard Henry Dana, William Morris Hunt, Annie Fields and Franklin Pierce before he was elected President of the United States.

"And while the praise of her poetry has faded her paintings are still enjoyed and praised today." (Mayor)   Laighton Thaxter painted translucent and minutely detailed flowers over the type in her volumes of poetry.  She found great success in the nineteenth century art of china painting.

In addition to poetry writing, Celia painted flowers, olives branches, poppies and seaweed on Wedgwood and Haviland vases, dishes and tiles.   She always signed her well-known name and enjoyed much success in this enterprise.

When her mother died in 1877, Celia had great difficulty recovering from her sadness.  She and her son, Karl, had spent many months helping the woman when she was dying.  Three years later, the Thaxters built a home at Kittery Point, Maine, which had a good view of the Isles of Shoals.  Their farm, Champernowne", has remained in the family ever since.

Celia Thaxter died at the age of fifty nine at Appledore during a summer visit.  She was buried with her wish of having flowers heaped upon her coffin.

Source:
Alfred Mayor, "Books About Antiques", The Magazine Antiques, May 2002
Olive Tardiff, "Celia Laighton Thaxter", They Paved the Way-A History of New Hampshire Women,  http://seacoastnh.com/women/thaxter.html

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