Apia, Upolu, Samoa, 1930
|Omer Thomas Lassonde, (1903-1990)|
|Oil on Canvas|
|20″ x 24″|
Omer T. Lassonde (1903-1980)
Born in 1903 at Concord, NH of French-Canadian stock, Omer Thomas Lassonde was schooled at Manchester and Philadelphia, while painting at Monhegan and Gloucester with some of the great colorists of the 1920s.
At the Manchester Institute of Arts and Science (now the NH Institute of Art) he learned the design theories of Denman Ross and Albert Munsell’s color theory, while improving his drawing, painting, and modeling on evenings and weekends. Maud Briggs Knowlton, his painting instructor, was so impressed by the 20-year-old that she took him in 1925 to Monhegan Island, Maine, to paint, exhibit, and meet other professional painters.
This led to his acceptance at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in fall 1925. Winning 13 prizes over his 3 years there, Lassonde was granted scholarships in 1926 and 1927. In summer 1925 he was given free attendance to the Hugh Breckenridge School of Color, East Gloucester, MA, expanding his study of scientific analysis of color, creative composition, and costume models, landscape and still life painting. No matter what style he adopted in later life, Lassonde remained a committed colorist throughout his career.
Returning to both Monhegan and then the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia, Lassonde won the 1928 Cresson travel fellowship that gave him five months to visit galleries and museums in England and the continent as well as a visit with the Pope. When he returned to Philadelphia, he and a fellow student at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Charles Cagle of Nashville, Tennessee (who would win the Cresson Fellowship the next year) attended class in the modernist collections of the Barnes Foundation at Merion, PA two days a week over the fall semester of 1928.
His earliest solo exhibits, besides the regular class competitions at school, were in his hometown, Monhegan, and Nashville, Tennessee. Originally expecting to become a portraitist, one of his subjects was New Hampshire Governor John G. Winant, who suggested he go to the South Pacific like Gauguin to paint.
Indeed, Lassonde is best known for the year 1930 he spent painting the landscape and native life of West Samoa. Upon his return these works earned him his successful first exhibitions in New York and Boston in 1931 and 1932. Throughout the 1930s, Lassonde visited friends in Pennsylvania and Nashville, Tennessee, where he painted a portraits, landscapes, and scenes of rural African-American life. When Maud B. Knowlton became Director of the Currier Gallery of Art in 1933, Lassonde took over her duties at the Manchester Institute teaching the History of Art and Picture Analysis.
He weathered the later years of the Great Depression, however, as Administrator of the WPA Federal Arts Project and the Index of American Design in his native New Hampshire from 1935 to 1942. In this work, arranging exhibitions of art across New Hampshire, Lassonde met many like-minded artists and in 1940 he helped found the New Hampshire Art Association to exhibit and further the work of contemporary artists throughout the state. He long served on its board, headed several of its volunteer committees, and was elected its President in 1948 and 1950.
He met his future wife, Louisa W. Tompkins (1895 – 1991), the Protestant scion of a leading business family in Manchester and a craftsperson and photographer, while attending a watercolor class in Manchester. Yet from 1937, when they said they married in an ecumenical service with both a priest and minister, their marriage may have been a secret until he joined the U.S. Army engineers immediately after Pearl Harbor. Lassonde served at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard – painting scenery for Army films — and continued to live and work there alone for a year after the war ended until his mother-in-law passed away.
Thereafter, living and painting between Louisa’s inherited family home in Manchester and a big colonial house, Fort Acres, that he bought in Boscawen, NH as home and studio, Lassonde continued to paint. In the post-war years he became a more outspoken advocate for artistic modernism, painting in a series of new styles. In 1947 Benjamin C. Bradlee, later editor of the Washington Post, called “Lassonde, One of America’s Great Painters” and that he had “done more than any man living to put New Hampshire on the map artistically.” In 1934 he exhibited at the Grand Salon of Paris, Paris, France and was elected to Societé Des Artists Francais.
Showing at the Burliuk Gallery in New York City in 1953, one critic found his work “the heir to many of the styles of the School of Paris” noting that “Kandinsky is adapted in “Color Orchestration”, a swirling non-objective painting. Matisse and Braque are both sources for “Victorian Illusion”, in which a figure and a pitcher are reduced to line and placed as phantom inhabitants of a slightly abstracted interior. The forceful network of diagonal arcs in “Sea, Sky and Sails” is more original . . . as brisk and breezy as its title suggests.”
Lassonde was given some 40 solo exhibitions during his lifetime, in a dozen of which he exhibited alongside his wife’s jewelry on the college museum circuit in the late 1940s. He was also a regular contributor to some 150 group shows from Maine to Florida and New Jersey to California, winning nine prizes between 1949 and 1975. The Lassondes wintered in Florida and California and, by the 1950s, traveled to Canada, Europe, Tennessee and North Africa whose sites often became the subject of his later art.
STUDENT AWARDS AND PRIZES
1925 Manchester Institute of Arts & Sciences, Manchester, NH 1924 Scholarship
Group shows at school 1923-24; 20 paintings of those shown in Concord 1925
1926 June – Sept. Breckinridge School of color, East Gloucester, MA.
1925-29 PA Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA Tuition Scholarship
1926, 1927, 1928, 1929 3 President’s Prizes for color ($15 ea)
1926 1927, 1928 Henri J. Thouron Prize for composition
1927 Ramberger Prize for line drawing ($25)
1928 Henry Rankin Poor Prize
1928 June 15 – Oct. 8 Cresson Memorial Traveling Fellowship ($1350)
1929 PA Academy Fellowship Exhibit, Hon. Mention – Toppan Prize ($100)
May 25 Friendly Club, 20 South Main St., Concord, NH, 1st one-man show; [list of 41 paintings and review]
Aug.18 Mrs. Knowlton’s Studio, Monhegan Island, ME [list of 40 paintings]
August Island Inn, Monhegan, ME [list of 9 paintings]
Summer Invited to Tennessee State Fair, Nashville, Tennessee [12 paintings]
Sept. Friendly Club, Concord, NH [review of 4 paintings]
Jan. 14 -27 Exhibition of Paintings by Omer Lassonde: Samoan Islands, Tutuila, Upolo, Savaii, Gallery of Doll & Richards, Boston.
Feb. 2 – 14 Paintings by Omer Lassonde, Babcock Gallery, NYC
March 9 Arts and Crafts Club, New Orleans, LA
[Carpenter Library, Manchester, NH Samoan artifacts]
Pancoast Gallery, Wellesley, MA
June Nashua Public Library, Nashua, NH
Gloucester Society of Artists, Gloucester, MA
Oct. Fitchburg Art Center, Fitchburg, Mass. [29 paintings]
Jackson Town Hall Jackson, NH [20 pictures]
Watkins Institute, Nashville,Tenn. [30 paintings]
Brooks Memorial Museum [29 paintings]
Kentucky State Teachers College, Bowling Green, KY [20 paintings]
Columbia, Tenn. [12 paintings]
Jan.Paintings by Omer Lassonde, Grace Horne Galleries, Boston, MA 
Columbia [?] Tennessee [25 paintings]
Paintings by Omer Lassonde, Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA [13 paintings]
Portsmouth Home Industries, Peirce Barn, Portsmouth NH
July 1 – 27 NHAA Carpenter Galleries, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Gloucester Society of Artists, East Gloucester, MA
Rutgers University Gallery, New Brunswick, NJ
Ballroom Gallery, Effingham, NH
Feb. Burliuk Gallery, 119 W. 57th St., NYC [21 paintings]
1957 [& 1959?]
Ruthmore Galleries, San Francisco
Oct. 17-Nov.17 Retrospective Exhibition, Oil Paintings by Omer Lassonde,
Manchester Institute of Arts and Sciences, Manchester, NH [50 paintings]
Sept. Concord Public Library, Concord, NH [19 priced paintings]
76 Chapel Arts Center, St. Anselm’s College, Manchester, NH [10 works]
DUO SHOWS (jewelry by Louisa Lassonde, Grace Pickett Gallery, NYC)
1947 Mary Buie Museum, Oxford, Miss.
1947 State Teacher’s College Art Gallery, Kutztown, Pa.
1947 Kenosha Museum, Wisc.
1947 Cortland Free Library, Cortland, NY
1948 NJ College for Women, New Brunswick, NJ
1948 Civic Art Center, Greenville, S.C.
1948 Studio Guild, San Diego, CA
1948 Brooks Museum, Memphis, Tennessee
1948 Nashville Museum, Nashville, Tenn.
1949 Thiel College, Greenville, PA
1949 West Palm Beach, FL
1949 March Omer T. Lassonde & Rosmond deKalb, Nashua Public Library
1949 NH Art Assoc., 3rd Annual Exhibition, Manchester, NH
GROUP SHOW HONORS
1934 Grand Salon of Paris, Paris, France elected to Societé Des Artists Francais
1946 Huckleberry Mountain Art Colony, Hendersonville, NC – 1ST prize, oils for Moonlight Village Street
1947 Brick Store Museum 7th Annual Member’s Exhibition, Kennebunk, ME – Mrs. George E. Barstow Prize,Onward
1948 Painters & Sculptors Society of New Jersey, Museum of NJ, Jersey City, NJ – John Linden Award 3rd prize for Studio
1949 Yonkers Art Association 34th Annual, Yonkers, NY medal for Nun Sliding
1949 Currier Gallery of Art Award for Circus Training
1950 Yonkers Art Assoc. 35th Annual Exhibition – 2nd Prize/ silver medal Lobster Buoys
1951 Premier International Exhibition, Lakeland, Florida, Award of Merit
1951 NH Art Assoc. 5th Annual Exhibition, Manchester, NH, 2nd Currier Gallery of Art Award for Nocturne
1952 Premier International Exhibition, Lakeland, FL, Award of Merit
1961 Brick Store Museum 20th Annual Member’s Exhibition, Kennebunk, ME
Bertha K. Barstow Memorial Prize, oils Empire Room [aka “Whatnot’]
1963 Brick Store Museum 23rd Annual Member’s Exhibition, Kennebunk, ME
Bertha K. Barstow Memorial Prize, oils for The Beginning
1975 Prescott Park Art Exhibit, Portsmouth, NH Jose Prescott Award for A Time to Celebrate
1961 Oct. 17 – Nov. 17. “Retrospective Exhibition, Oil Paintings by Omer Lassonde,” Manchester Institute of Arts and Sciences, Concord & Pine Sts., Manchester, (50 paintings)
1981 Nov. 15 – Dec. 15 “A Memorial Retrospective of Works By Omer T. Lassonde, A Painter of Poems,” New Hampshire Art Association, Manchester, NH
1989 Jan. 4 – Feb. 5 Omer Lassonde, The Gallery on the Green, Lexington, MA
March 13-28 Oil Paintings by Omer Lassonde, NHAA Gallery (28 paintings)
1997 Aug. 11 – Sept. 26 “The Lassonde Legacy: A Retrospective of a Man and his Art” – Franco-American Centre, Manchester, NH
2003 Feb. – March “Hard Times and Big Dreams: 1935-1942” Map Gallery, New
Hampshire State Library, Concord, NH
2013 March -May “Omer T. Lassonde: Versatile Colorist”, Portsmouth Historical Society Academy Gallery.
Written and submitted by Richard Candee, Professor Emeritus, Boston University; and President of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Historical Society. He and Robert S. Chase are co-creators of the exhibit, “Omer T. Lassonde, Versatile Colorist”, held at the Historical Society April 5-May 31, 2013.