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Dorothy Abbott Thompson, 93, artist, curator, art historian

By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / June 19, 2012
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Artist and art historian Dorothy Abbott Thompson was in her 70s when she began driving from her Lincoln home to Nashua every few weeks to interview Hyman Bloom for a book she would write about his pioneering role in the artists group known as the Boston Expressionists.

“Mother and Mr. Bloom would meet at the same restaurant in Nashua, order the same meal, and she would just listen to him talk,” said her daughter, Christina of Lincoln.

The result was her 1996 book, “Hyman Bloom,” published by Chameleon Books in association with the Fuller Museum of Art in Brockton. That same year, Mrs. Thompson curated at the museum a major retrospective of Bloom’s work, “The Spirits of Hyman Bloom: Sixty Years of Painting and Drawing.” Art critics credited her with “having helped reignite interest in the work of Bloom and other artists of the mid-20th century,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Thompson, who also exhibited her own work, including a 40-year retrospective of paintings, prints, and drawings at the Concord Art Association in 2010, died of pancreatic cancer May 16 in her Lincoln home. She was 93.

In her book, Mrs. Thompson described Bloom, who died at 96 in 2009, as “an eccentric and a visionary whose life and work are inseparable. Since Bloom’s character from his earliest years was shaped by alienation, a sense of loss, and anxiety, creating art became for him a requirement for survival, an assertion of purposiveness over the forces of negation.”

Painter Roger Kizik of South Dartmouth called Mrs. Thompson “a great friend of New England area artists.”

After exhibits opened, artists often went to the Lincoln residence Mrs. Thompson shared with her husband, Lawrence.

“Their home in Lincoln was a sort of gathering place after an opening,” Kizik said. “Dorothy was a very good writer with a huge mind.”

Her generosity to Boston artists was legendary, said Jeremy Foss of Cape Neddick, Maine, an artist and former professor at Massachusetts College of Art.

“So many of us were helped professionally by important exhibitions Dorothy organized, sometimes with more difficulty and frustration than most people knew,” he said. “She did endure fools, not always lightly, but enough to achieve her goal. No one had better taste or more integrity.”

Mrs. Thompson’s gifts as a curator, choosing which artworks would be exhibited, were especially evident in group shows, said her daughter, who added: “She had a wonderful eye.”

Born in St. Paul, Mrs. Thompson lived with her grandmother and three aunts after her parents divorced.

“They were rather well-to-do and dressed for dinner and kept a very Victorian household,” Christina said. “We also thought my mother’s drift toward the bohemian, her later travels to far corners of the world, her flamboyant and ethnic dress style, and her love for bright colors and exotic objects was a kind of reaction against the stuffiness of turn-of-the-century St. Paul society.”

Mrs. Thompson graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., in 1940 and enrolled in the Art Students League of New York for about a year.

Writing about herself for the 2010 exhibit at the Concord Art Association, she said she “always loved to draw and paint. It is something I have done wherever I was and with whatever means I had at my disposal.”

In 1942, she married Lawrence Evans Thompson, who was then a Navy lieutenant. After World War II, when he became a professor of business administration at Harvard University, they moved to Cambridge.

They moved to Lincoln in 1960. Mr. Thompson died in 2005.

While raising a family, she took art classes at Brandeis University, the deCordova museum, and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

Mrs. Thompson traveled often with her husband and sometimes with their children, through the years visiting China, Afghanistan, Egypt, Lisbon, and Rome.

“Mother was a very understanding person, not bound by convention, very tolerant, open-minded, and generous,” said her son, Elliott of Concord.

In the piece for the Concord exhibition, Mrs. Thompson wrote that when she was 50, her husband and children gave her a studio as a birthday present.

“It was uniquely different from the spaces I had worked in before — the dining room in Cambridge and the basement in Lincoln, places with drawbacks too numerous to mention,” she wrote. “The studio was a freestanding building in the backyard with a blank wall on the side facing the house. On the other side was a wall of windows that looked out onto a landscape of maple and pine trees, stone walls, blueberry bushes, and grass. It was a place where I could make as big a mess as I wanted to and I could look out at the trees and fields beyond.”

There, she began drawing and took up printmaking.

“The work evolved slowly, interrupted, as always by the demands of family life,” she wrote. “But my development during these years is a testament to the fact that for women the second fifty years can be as fruitful as the first.”

Mrs. Thompson first became active in the Boston art scene in the 1970s, her daughter said, and soon became a member of the boards at area museums.

In addition to her daughter and son, Mrs. Thompson leaves a brother, George Abbott of Hutchinson, Kan., and six grandchildren.

A celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. July 21 in the Concord Art Association in Concord.

Deborah Plunkett, spokeswoman for the Concord Art Association, said Mrs. Thompson “was very much an educator as well as an artist. She was beyond incredible, beautiful physically and spiritually.”

Gloria Negri can be reached at g_negri@globe.com.

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