Digital Commonwealth

Thomas W. Nason (1889-1971). Prints and Drawings

Boston Public Library

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Thomas W. Nason was born and raised in Billerica, Massachusetts in 1889. After finishing high school, he held a series of business-related jobs and it was only after a brief time spent in France during World War I that he began to teach himself the art of printmaking. He made extensive use of the resources of the Boston Public Library as well as the Museum of Fine Arts and the local print shops where he could study the work of his contemporaries. During the 1920s, he focused almost exclusively on wood engravings. In 1923, he sold six prints to The Century Magazine for reproduction, and continued selling his prints through galleries and bookshops, such as Boston's Goodspeed's Book Shop and others. By the end of the 1920s, his work was winning national and international prizes and he was beginning to be featured in one-man shows around the United States. Early in 1931, while living with his family in Reading, Massachusetts, he left his job to devote himself full-time to his printmaking, a brave move at a time when so many were suffering the impact of the Great Depression. Goodspeed's hosted two one-man shows, one in 1933 and one in 1935. In 1935, he also had shows at the Dallas Art Museum and the Carnegie Public Library in Fort Worth, Texas. By 1935, his work was represented in the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the New York Public Library, the Baltimore and Cleveland Museums, the Library of Congress, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Nason's work eloquently captures the New England countryside and vernacular architecture of his times. Arthur Heintzelman, Keeper of Prints in the Boston Public Library from 1941-1960, wrote of Nason, he "is a true son of New England, which has been his inspiration throughout his entire work. . . . His accomplishment is unique; no one has produced an oeuvre of greater distinction in American engraving than Thomas Nason."

He worked in almost every type of graphic design including landscapes, portraits, bookplates, Christmas cards, trade cards, labels, personal and corporate marks and emblems, commissioned views of buildings, and particularly book illustration. His natural affinity for the character of New England made him an almost perfect collaborator for Robert Frost. His illustrations of Frost's poems are considered among his best work. His colleague Francis Adams Comstock wrote of Nason's work with Frost, in the introduction to the catalogue raisonée, "never did a poet have an illustrator so exactly fitted to interpret him and to complement him in another medium."

In the 1966, the Boston Public Library's Print Department received through gift and purchase a nearly complete collection of his work, put together by the artist and others as a reference collection on which the catalogue of his work is based. This comprehensive collection includes drawings and prints (primarily wood and copper engravings), landscapes, book illustrations, Christmas cards, book plates, wood blocks, and more.

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