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Supine Woman and an Extraordinary Reunion

Working at the Museum often brings experiences that one would have never imagined.  Sometimes ordinary, sometimes extraordinary.

Several months ago I received a call that a family planned to gather at Crystal Bridges in August to celebrate the 90th birthday of the family’s matriarch, and the family wished to arrange a special itinerary for the day.  A fairly ordinary call.  The caller then continued to share that the matriarch in question was the previous owner of Wayne Thiebaud’s Supine Woman now in Crystal Bridges’ collection. Extraordinary.

Wayne Thiebaud b. 1920 "Supine Woman," 1963 Oil on canvas

Wayne Thiebaud b. 1920
“Supine Woman,” 1963
Oil on canvas

Recently I had the pleasure of hosting this lovely group at Crystal Bridges.  Twenty family members traveled from all corners of the country—Florida, California, New York, Illinois, and others—to celebrate the birthday of their beloved mom and grandma (the most spry 90-year-old that I’ve met)!   It was their first visit to Crystal Bridges and, for most, their first time in Arkansas.

Since Crystal Bridges opened on 11-11-11, Supine Woman has hung in the Twentieth Century Art Gallery among other works of its time by artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns, Rauschenberg, Wesselman, and others. However, as we prepare for our upcoming exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, many of these works have been temporarily stored in our vaults to make room for this large-scale exhibition.

You guessed it.  Supine Woman was not scheduled to be on display during this family’s visit.

We made special arrangements, following Museum security and safety guidelines, for the family to visit the vault with our Registrar to view their beloved artwork.  When the rolling rack was pulled out to reveal Supine Woman, the matriarch exclaimed “There she is!”  It was a touching moment to see her and her children be completely consumed in seeing this old family friend.  Family members told stories about it hanging in the master bedroom, where it was for 30 years, and jabbed at one family member for his careless play as a young boy that nearly damaged the work.

The matriarch and her late husband purchased Supine Woman from a gallery in 1964, one year after it was painted.   Inspired by the unique look of Thiebaud’s work, the matriarch also took painting classes from the artist, and eventually commissioned Thiebaud to paint a portrait of her children.  She shared important documents regarding the provenance of the work, such as conversation records and purchase documents.  Among these jewels was the confirmation that the model for Supine Woman is Thiebaud’s daughter, Twinka Thiebaud.

Supine Woman happens to be among my favorite works in the Museum’s collection.  I affectionately call it “Working Mother.”   During a milestone birthday I celebrated this year, my family had an image of Supine Woman placed on my birthday cake.  (The matriarch insisted on seeing a photo of Supine Woman on my cake!)   From this point forward, Supine Woman will hold new meaning for me.  I will not look at her without thinking about this extraordinary family who allowed me to step inside their story and a very special birthday celebration.   Note:  Crystal Bridges did not acquire Supine Woman directly from this family, the work was purchased at auction.