Happy 100th Birthday, Wayne Thiebaud

by Al McMordie

Today is the 100th birthday of Wayne Thiebaud, one of the world's best artists. 

We routinely discuss sports and gambling on these pages.  Of course, life is much more than sports.  And one of my favorite passions is art.  I enjoy many kinds of art, but my favorite artist is easily Wayne Thiebaud.

Most people know Thiebaud for his renditions of various foodstuffs like cakes, candy apples, gumball machines, and pies.  And his chosen subject matter has led to him being lumped into the pop art classification, alongside such artists as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg.  But Thiebaud really belongs more to a classical tradition of painting.

I recall seeing a retrospective of Thiebaud's work in 2001, in Washington, D.C., at The Phillips Collection.  Among my favorites at that show were his 1962 painting, Around the Cake, and his iconic 1963 painting, Cakes

Fast forward 12 years to 2013 when my wife and I were planning our wedding.  We were researching wedding cake possibilities when we came across a Martha Stewart article.  Lo and behold, Caitlin Williams Freeman, then the pastry chef at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, had created a wedding cake (actually, 13 cakes) to precisely mimic Thiebaud's Cakes painting.  So, I gave Ms. Williams Freeman a call, and her team made us our wedding cakes!

A few months after our wedding, we had the good fortune to be invited to a gala at the Laguna Art Museum, which honored the artist.  We were able to chat with Thiebaud and, of course, told him of our wedding cakes, which he truly enjoyed.

Besides his well-known still-life paintings of confections, delicatessen counters, and the like, Thiebaud also paints figure studies (like his Football Player (1963) accompanying this blog post), abstract landscapes, San Francisco cityscapes, and Sacramento deltas.  And he even created California's famous Arts license plate (with its palm trees, ocean and setting sun), so 137,000 Californians drive around with a "Thiebaud" every day.

Even though he's reached the century mark, he's still painting (and playing tennis) every day.  And, for those interested, there is a major retrospective of his work ongoing through January 3, 2021 at the Crocker Museum, in Sacramento, CA.  Next year, the exhibit will travel to the Toledo Museum of Art, in Toledo, OH; the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, in Memphis, TN; the McNay Art Museum, in San Antonio, TX; and the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA.  Among the paintings on display are the Crocker's own holdings, Pies, Pies, Pies (1961) and, one of my all-time faves, Boston Cremes (1962).

Happy Birthday, Wayne!


All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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