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'One Thousand Ways to Paint': The Art of Charles Thwaites

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Museum of Wisconsin Art 2011-213
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Charles Thwaites, Ranchos de Taos Valley, encaustic on paper, 1952

Even non-art historians might be aware that the artist Georgia O’Keeffe was born and started her painting career in Wisconsin, before moving on to do some of her most famous work in New Mexico.  But another artist did the same thing, though his name is not nearly as well-known.

If Charles Thwaites is known for anything, it is for his portraiture - but Thwaites’ work was in a variety of styles and methods.  He was born in Milwaukee in 1904, but moved to New Mexico in the 1950's.  After his death and his wife’s death at turn of this century, they left nearly all of Thwaites’ work to the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.

"Charles Thwaites: An American Journey" is an exhibit of the artist's work, currently on display at the museum through the middle of March.  Director of Collections Graeme Reid says the 52 works showcased in the exhibition are representative of the broad range of styles and mediums that Thwaites used.

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Credit Museum of Wisconsin Art
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Museum of Wisconsin Art
Charles Thwaites, Patterns in Black and White, acrylic on masonite, 1961

"One of the great quotes that Thwaites came out with during the course of his life," Reid says, "was something along the lines of, 'There are one thousand ways to paint, why pick one?' And that's certainly true because in the exhibition we have dry oil, we have acrylic, we have oil, we have encaustic, we have watercolor."

"This exhibition is really about bringing a remarkable artist back to public consciousness and public awareness," says Reid. 

"I cannot think of any other artist in the twentieth century in American art whose realist work is top quality and whose abstract art is top quality...and he was all the way from Milwaukee," he adds. 

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.