Artist Donald Ross Thayer


Donald Ross Thayer, previous long-time resident of Portland, Maine, passed away peacefully at his home in Edgewater, Fla. on Sept. 19, 2020 with his long-time partner Betsey Casey by his side. His passion for art, prolific creativity expressed through multiple artistic media and writing, and intellectual pursuits avidly occupied his 96 years.

Don Thayer was born in Brockton, Mass. Jan. 4, 1924, but spent many a summer on the coast of Maine as a child. His grandmother, Rev. Eleanor Mason, founded and operated the Bethel Mission in the Mariner’s Church at Fore and Exchange Streets. In the early 1960s, Don and his wife moved from New York City where he worked as a commercial artist, to Farmington, Maine. They purchased a farmhouse with a large red barn where Thayer set up an art studio and gallery, eponymously naming it “The Red Barn Gallery.” He also began serving as director of the Central Maine Art Center soon after its establishment in the mid-1960s and commuted to Portland to teach graphic design at the Portland School of Fine and Applied Arts (now known as the Maine College of Art).

In 1973, Thayer moved to Portland, where he first set up shop in the Old Port, at 34 Exchange Street. He continued to work as a resident artist, teacher, and writer for many decades in the Portland area and was commissioned often to do portraitures, cityscapes, and marine scenes of

Casco Bay. He taught graphic arts and illustration for various art programs, including the Portland School of Fine and Applied Arts (now the Maine College of Art), Westbrook College, and the University of Maine in Portland.

In 1979, he completed a 53′ x 10′ mural of Portland’s landmark Union Station in the Portland Exposition building. Soon after, he collaborated on the well-known trompe l’oeil mural on the exterior wall of the Monks Building facing Tommy’s Park in the Old Port (decommissioned in 2018). He also worked as a court trial artist (including the infamous Jon Pownall murder trial in 1975); a graphic artist in advertising and publishing; and as an arts correspondent for Portland area newspapers, covering the cultural arts’ scene and profiling local exhibitions and artists. Thayer was also a regular contributor to Down East Magazine, including a number of their cover designs.

Thayer’s work has been exhibited in various other Maine venues, including Bowdoin College, the University of Maine, the State House in Augusta, and the Portland Museum of Art. Two of his paintings are

included in the hardcover publication, Maine through the Eyes of Her Artists (MacMillan Pub. Co., 1965).

Thayer served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during WWII, and recently received the French Legion of Honor medal. After returning home from the war, Thayer earned a BFA and MFA from Syracuse University, and a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Missouri, where he also taught in the art departments of each of these respective institutions.

Thayer is survived by his partner, Betsey Casey of Edgewater; his daughter Lori Thayer of Portland, and his stepdaughter Meredith Fossett of Pemaquid.

When his daughter asked her Dad several years ago in a letter if he preferred a plain pine box or a gold-lame trim coffin, Thayer wrote back that he hoped “for a solid gold sarcophagus inside a pyramid in a warm country, but if all that costs too much, even just a warm country would be okay.” To best meet his wishes, Thayer will be buried with Military Honors in the Veterans’ Garden of the Edgewater Cemetery in sunny Florida.

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