Eugene Gaddis, a longtime archivist at the Wadsworth Atheneum and biographer of legendary Atheneum director A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr., has died at age 72.
Gaddis, who was retired, died at his home in West Hartford on August 18, according to his obituary on Legacy.com.
In 2000, Knopf published Gaddis’ “Magician of the Modern: Chick Austin and the Transformation of the Arts in America.” The book describes how Austin, arriving at the Atheneum in 1927 as its first professional director, pushed and cajoled the conservative museum into showing modern art. Soon, the Atheneum found itself not just participating in the modern art movement–it was in the vanguard of it. Because of Austin’s many connections, the book also serves as a chronicle of Hartford’s arts and social scene in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
In 1986, when the Austin family gave its Scarborough Street home to the Atheneum, Gaddis became its curator, eventually working to restore it and securing its recognition as a National Historic Landmark.
Gaddis’ tenure with the Atheneum began in 1981, when a week-long survey of museum records led to him creating the archives. He also became a well-known speaker on the Atheneum, and taught classes at at Hartford College for Woman and at the Hartford branch of the University of Connecticut.
A memorial service will be held when it is safe to do so.
Other Hartford-related articles in
the issue include:
“Unburying Hartford’s Native and African-American Histories,” Katherine A. Hermes’ overview of the effort to tell the stories of an estimated 300-plus people of color who are buried in the Ancient Burying Ground, the city’s earliest extent graveyard. (It also the subject of an episode of “Grating the Nutmeg,” the podcast associated with Connecticut Explored. You can listen here: https://gratingthenutmeg.libsyn.com/.)
“The LeWitts Raise a World-Class Artist,” an adaptation of Larry Bloom’s new biography, “Sol LeWitt: A Life of Ideas.” LeWitt, who became one of the most important artists of the 20th Century though his pioneering work in minimalism and conceptualism, spent the first six years of his life in Hartford. He and his parents lived in a spacious house on the north end of Main Street, not far from the hospital that his father, a surgeon, co-founded: Mount Sinai. But when Sol’s father died of a heart attack in 1934, amid financial troubles brought on by the Great Depression, the boy and his mother moved to an apartment in New Britain. LeWitt’s connection to Hartford didn’t end there, however. He took art classes at the Wadsworth Atheneum, which would later display his work, though the LeWitt-Hartford relationship was usually, the Hartford Courant notes, contentious.