Poughkeepsie Public Library District Presents: Local History Discussion

Thomas Weeks Barrett Jr.  (1902-1947)

It’s that time of year again! Halloween is here and we are super excited. After all, here in the Local History room we hang around with the dead all day long (well, at least the documents and photos of the dead). One of those deceased individuals apparently liked Halloween almost as much as we do, and was so inspired that he decided to paint a scene of trick-or-treaters walking down the street. In fact, we have a lot of his artwork thanks to the folks at the Barrett Art Center, who recently donated Thomas Weeks Barrett Jr.’s collection of paintings, photographs, documents, and more. We have decided to devote a lecture to his life and work on November 16, along with an exhibit of his art which will run through December 31.

Thomas Weeks Barrett Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie on September 12, 1902. He was the son of Thomas Weeks Barrett Sr., a local prominent banker, and Kate Stoutenburgh, a descendant of some of the area’s earliest settlers. The family, which included a little sister named Elizabeth, lived in a lovely Greek Revival house on 55 Noxon Street, here in the City of Poughkeepsie which he referred to as “dear old Poky and dearer old 55.” Life for the Barrett family was comfortable enough to allow for frequent vacations to New Hampshire and Atlantic City, as well as a fabulous collection of antique furnishings and art.

While Barrett did go to local schools in Poughkeepsie, he never graduated from Poughkeepsie High School, due to being a sickly young man and missing too much time. However, his illnesses did not prevent him from studying art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He began studying design under Henry Hunt Clack in 1922, and graduated in 1926. Afterwards he made his way down to New York City, where he had hoped to make it big as an artist. He found odd jobs and some commissioned work, but made his way back home to Poughkeepsie just before the stock market crashed in 1929.

As the Great Depression dragged on, he became aware of the need to showcase the work of local artists in Poughkeepsie. He, along with several others, organized the city’s first major art show at the Luckey Platt, a company department store on Main Street in 1934. Out of this came the formation of the Dutchess County Arts Association less than a year later. Barrett hoped that the DCAA would unite both artists and art collectors alike in the spreading of arts throughout the community for the betterment of society. In his later years he would try to convince officials in Poughkeepsie of the need to have more galleries as well as a civic center, in order to improve the city’s cultural aesthetics.

Much of Barrett’s art focuses on his hometown, and in these paintings we can see that he loved the views and landscapes but was disturbed by the politics and even some of the people. His diaries and personal correspondence show a complex man who regularly was at odds with the society around him. Please join Historian Shannon Butler on Wednesday, November 16, at 6:30 pm here at Adriance Memorial Library, as we dive deeper into the life, thoughts, and work of Thomas Barrett Jr. with a special lecture and exhibit opening.

References:

Thomas W. Barrett Jr. Collection – Barrett Family Papers – LH Collections

Dutchess County Art Association Papers – LH Collections

Images:

Halloween-TWB – “Halloween” – painted By Thomas W. Barrett Jr. 1942

TWB-1940s  – Photo of Thomas W. Barrett Jr.

Riverfrontpoughkeepsie-TWB – “Riverfront Poughkeepsie” – Painted By Thomas W. Barrett Jr. 1933