Abbott Thayer, Father of Camouflage 1
“OH, ABBOTT, DON’T DO that!” George de Forest Brush cried, “DON’T!” He stood in his studio in front of his latest perfectly-rendered masterpiece. Abbott Thayer, as was usual, had come to give his opinion on the work. “George,” he said, “I think that there’s a place on that picture where it would be much better if you lowered the tone of it a little bit.” Abbott had just licked his thumb, rubbed it on the dirty floor, and had raised it to the picture ready to lower its tone.
Abbott Handerson Thayer and Brush were best friends. They had studied together in New York and Paris. Unlike Brush, Abbott did not approve of the paintings of Jean-Léon Gérôme: he considered Gérôme to belong to “that raft of whore painters,” given that Gérôme often painted nudes. Brush was so enamored of his teacher that he named his son Gerome. Abbott, however, named his first son Ralph Waldo.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings inspired Thayer. In Emerson’s 1836 essay, “Nature,” he writes: “I see the spectacle of morning from the hilltop over against my house, from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which angels might share.” It was a sentiment that defined Emerson’s Transcendentalism: the presence of God as reflected in the everyday displays of nature, a way of thinking that resonated with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood on the lawn near Day-Spring one day, looking at the view over the hills. “When a man observes the wafting of the breeze,” he said, “hears the rustling of the leaves and sees the swaying of the trees, it is as though all are praising and acknowledging the one true God.”
New Hampshire 2
On July 31, at 9:30 A.M., as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked to and fro on the veranda of His house talking to George Latimer, Mr. Hannen recorded His words:
The Bahai must first be informed of the principles and Teachings of Baha’o’llah, then go forth and spread the Message. It is like unto a soldier, who must arm himself with the buckler and armor, and then he enters the battlefield to fight against the foe. But if he goes to fight without arming himself, he will be defeated. The Bahais are the Army of God. Their defensive armors or weapons are: First, Faith; second, Assurance; Third, Severance; fourth, Complete Attraction to the Kingdom of Abha. If they are armed with these weapons, they will gain the victory in whatever field they may enter. As long as he is not equipped with these weapons, he will not be successful. He must cut himself entirely from all imitations … 3
Wednesday, July 31, 1912
In the morning the Master went to the [Marienfield] summer school that had been established by Mr [sic] [Charles Hanford] Henderson 20 years ago. It is located some 25 miles from Dublin [Chesham, New Hampshire] and classes are held in tents in a clear, open field. As soon as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s automobile arrived, the students, between the ages of 12 and 18, surrounded it and enthusiastically welcomed Him. They wore uniforms with knickerbockers and moved about busily but courteously. The headmaster then took ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the school hall and remained standing while the Master spoke to the students and teachers, praising the school and the good manners of its students. Later He visited each of the student’s tents. Some of the children had cameras and requested permission to take the Master’s photograph. Dr Henderson said that when he had established the school 20 years ago there was not a summer school in the whole of America and now there are hundreds of them. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked: ‘Everything praiseworthy spreads rapidly. But the children must first be taught religion so that they may be sincere and trustworthy.’
After tea and refreshments, the pupils requested permission from the Master to show Him their gymnastic exercises. The Master remained there a long while and spoke at length about education. When it was time to leave, the headmaster and school staff expressed their heartfelt gratitude to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
At the public meeting in the afternoon at Mr and Mrs Parsons’s home, the Master spoke on spirituality and eternal happiness. 4
Talk to Theosophical Society, The Kensington, Exeter and Boylston Streets, Boston, Massachusetts, 24 July 1912 5
In the physical powers and senses, however, man and the animal are partners. In fact, the animal is often superior to man in sense perception. For instance, the vision of some animals is exceedingly keen and the hearing of others most acute. Consider the instinct of a dog: how much greater than that of man. But, although the animal shares with man all the physical virtues and senses, a spiritual power has been bestowed upon man of which the animal is devoid. This is a proof that there is something in man above and beyond the endowment of the animal—a faculty and virtue peculiar to the human kingdom which is lacking in the lower kingdoms of existence. This is the spirit of man. All these wonderful human accomplishments are due to the efficacy and penetrating power of the spirit of man. If man were bereft of this spirit, none of these accomplishments would have been possible. This is as evident as the sun at midday.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Menon, Morella. “Abbott Thayer, Father of Camouflage.” 239 Days in America, 31 July 2012, https://239days.com/2012/07/31/abbott-thayer-father-of-camouflage/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 119. ↩
- Joseph H. Hannen, “With Abdul-Baha in Dublin, New Hampshire,” Star of the West, 3, no. 11 (Sept. 27, 1912), 5-6. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=5#section129 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 241-242. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/17#650985033 ↩