Wayne Thiebaud

born Mesa, AZ 1920-died Sacramento, CA 2021
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Courtesy Photographs of artists taken by Mimi Jacobs 1971-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Also known as
  • Morton Wayne Thiebaud
Mesa, Arizona, United States
Sacramento, California, United States
Active in
  • Sacramento, California, United States

Born in Mesa, Arizona, Wayne Thiebaud became one of the most well-known Pop artists in America. His iconic images of food may have stemmed from his beginnings as a freelance cartoonist in 1939. From 1940 to 1941, he wrote showcards for Sears, Roebuck in Long Beach, California. While serving in the army from 1942 to 1945, Thiebaud worked as a cartoonist, creating a character, Aleck, for the comic strip "Wingtips." He also painted murals for the officers' club and the post theater before being assigned to the first Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California. In 1946, while employed as a cartoonist, he became an advertising artist in Hollywood for Universal Studios. In 1949 Thiebaud enrolled at California State University at San Jose and subsequently transferred to the university at Sacramento, where he received a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952. From 1950 to 1956, he worked on commissions for the California State Fair and Exposition, serving as a design and art consultant. Thiebaud taught studio art and art history at Sacramento City College from 1951 to 1959, becoming chairman of the department in 1954. From 1959 to 1972, he taught at the University of California at Davis. In 1968 he represented the United States in the Sao Paulo Biennal in Brazil. In 1981 the College Art Association named Thiebaud the most distinguished studio teacher of the year. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1985.

Joann Moser Singular Impressions: The Monotype in America (Washington, D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1997)

Luce Artist Biography

Wayne Thiebaud has spent most of his life on the West Coast. He worked as a freelance cartoonist and commercial artist until the late 1940s, then began to devote more of his time to fine art. He studied in Sacramento, California, and taught painting and drawing at the local junior college. He also designed sets for local theater productions, created public sculptures, and established a film production company in his basement. From the early 1950s, Thiebaud was fascinated with images of food, store displays, and slot machines. One early critic described him as "the hungriest artist in California," because of the way he focused on ritualistic arrangements of sandwiches, pies, or rows of chocolates in a candy store. (Frankenstein, "Impressive Shows at Legion of Honor," San Francisco Chronicle, December 1961, quoted in Tsujimoto, Wayne Thiebaud, 1985) He still lives in the Bay Area, teaching at the University of California at Davis and exhibiting at his son's gallery in San Francisco.


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Graphic Masters III: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
January 15, 2010August 7, 2010
Graphic Masters III: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the third in a series of special installations, celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper.
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Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection
October 29, 2015April 9, 2016
American artists in the twentieth century were deeply influenced by European modernism.

Related Books

Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection
In eighty-eight striking paintings and sculptures, Crosscurrents captures modernism as it moved from early abstractions by O’Keeffe, to Picasso and Pollock in midcentury, to pop riffs on contemporary culture by Roy Lichtenstein, Wayne Thiebaud, and Tom Wesselmann—all illustrating the complexity and energy of a distinctly American modernism.
Graphic Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Graphic Masters celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists’ works on paper. Exceptional watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1860s through the 1990s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Traditionally a more intimate form of expression than painting or sculpture, drawings often reveal greater spontaneity and experimentation. Even as works on paper become larger and more finished, competing in scale with easel paintings, they retain a sense of the artist’s hand, the immediacy of a thought made visible.