Penacook New Hampshire’s Acclaimed Modernist Artist: Omer Thomas Lassonde (1903-1980)

Self portrait of Omer Lassonde. Photograph copyright Boscawen Historical Society. Used here with their permission.

Self portrait of Omer Lassonde. Photograph copyright Boscawen Historical Society. Used here with their permission.

Omer Thomas Lassonde was a talented artist who could paint in any style–realism, cubism, expressionism and abstractism. The categories he painted varied as greatly as his style, and included landscape, still-life, genre, figure painting, and portraiture. “He was a colorist,” his wife, Louisa, said in a 1987 interview. “He used pure, rich colors. He wasn’t afraid of colors. He really wasn’t afraid of anything.” [The Telegraph, Nashua NH, Oct 4, 1987]

Omer was a prolific painter, creating over 2,000 canvasses during his career. His more well-known scenes include New Hampshire, California, Florida, Europe, Samoa and Africa. As one critic stated (1934) “He tries his hand at various idioms and styles and then discards them with equal rapidity to venture in new fields.” [Boston Herald, Boston MA, 7 January 1934]

Photograph of Omer Lassonde, taken between 1935 and 1942 when he was director of the Federal Arts Project in New Hampshire. Manchester Historic Association, used with permission.

Photograph of Omer Lassonde, taken between 1935 and 1942 when he was director of
the Federal Arts Project in New Hampshire. From the Manchester Historic Association, used with permission.

Reportedly in 1947 journalist Ben Bradlee [then editor of the NH Sunday News] said that he (Lassonde) had “done more than any man living to put New Hampshire on the map artistically.” Upon studying Omer’s life it would seem that this is a true statement. He not only spent his lifetime practicing his craft, but also in devoting his time and energy to encourage and support other New Hampshire artists, and art organizations.

Omer Lassonde was internationally well-known and appreciated during his lifetime. He still is celebrated as an artist among collectors and critics, though few people in his native state would recognize his name or would be able to describe one of his paintings. This needs to change. New Hampshire-men and women, sadly, often take for granted accomplished people born right in their back yard.

June 1928 NH newspaper notice with article on Omer Lassonde. Courtsey of Debra LaValley. Used here with her permission.

June 1928 NH newspaper notice with article on Omer Lassonde’s upcoming trip to Europe. Courtesy of Debbie  LaValley. Used here with her permission.

Omer Thomas Lassonde was born 9 August 1903 in Concord, the youngest of Francois “Frank” Xavier & Mary (Auger) Lassonde’s eight children. At the time of his birth, Omer’s parents were living on Spring Street in Penacook, a village that is part of the City of Concord in the state of New Hampshire. Omer’s father was a life-long blacksmith, and had the specialty of  horse shoeing. In fact, this practice was the cause of Frank Lassonde’s death in 1943, when the Portsmouth Herald noted at age 68 he “is dead as the result sustained when he was kicked by a horse he was shoeing at the stables…

Omer grew up in Penacook area of both Concord and Boscawen, New Hampshire. One census record shows he finished 3 years of high school, while yet another (the 1940 census indicates he completed “College, 5th or subsequent year.” Practically speaking, he had at least 3 years of high school plus 3+ years of art study. In June of 1928, when he was 25 years old, a New Hampshire newspaper published an article showing Omer was leaving for Europe for five months to study, and that he was home for a visit.

Older photograph of the Institute of Arts and Sciences in Manchester NH

Older photograph of the Institute of Arts and Sciences in Manchester NH where Omer Lassonde both took lessons and later taught.

After his local education ended, Omer attended classes in Manchester, New Hampshire, at the [then] Institute of Arts. His instructor, Maude Briggs (who was also from Penacook) was a noted colorist in her own right. She encouraged his talent, and introduced him to the prestigious Monhegan Island artist’s colony where he made important professional and artistic connections.

 

This study was followed by classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia PA, which he entered about 1925. While at this Academy, a newspaper article notes he won “eight prizes and two scholarship. Besides the Cresson award,”… and “he received two ‘President’s Prizes’ for the most poetic and creative composition with the human figure,” that were awarded to him by [John] Frederick Lewis, then president of the Academy.

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia PA.

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia PA.

On 15 June 1928 Omer left by ship for Europe through the Cresson Traveling Scholarship, returning in October of the same year. For five months he traveled throughout Europe and into Africa, studied in Paris, exhibited at the Paris Salon, visited galleries and museums, and [possibly] even had a visit with the Pope.  Lassonde also studied at  the Albert C. Barnes Foundation of Modern Art in Merion PA (two days a week over the fall semester of 1928) , and the Hugh H. Breckenridge School of Color in Gloucester MA (summer of 1925).

According to an article in Fosters.com (10 March 2013) John G. Winant, a 2-term  governor of NH, had suggested that “he [Omer Lassonde] go to the South Pacific like Gauguin to paint.” It seems he took that advice, because he traveled there on an art scholarship, reportedly arriving in Samoa in the winter of 1929 “on the day of a native uprising against occupying New Zealand soldiers.” From then, and into 1930 he lived in West Samoa, painting local life through landscapes and figure paintings, including several of the royal Samoan family.

From 14-27 January 1931 Omer was back in the United States, as he exhibited these new paintings (the collection entitled, Samoan Islands, Tutuila, Upolu, Savaii) at the Doll & Richards Gallery in Boston MA. In March of 1931 the same collection of Samoan paintings opened at the Arts and Crafts Club in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Times-Picyaune of 9 March 1931 includes some wonderful descriptions–“riots of lusciously sweet color,” “bold juxtapositions of great patches of crushed strawberry, sugary deep blue, pink, gold, grass green, laid on slapdash with a wide brush that seems to have rushed and leaped,” “sensuous, and the beauty entirely earth,” “a bag of confetti,” “a happy flowery garden of the gods.”

In the summer of 1933 Omer conducted an art school in Tennessee [per Boston Herald, 7 January 1934].  Also in 1933 when the Manchester Institute’s teacher of the History of Art and Picture Analysis (Maud B. Knowlton) became Director of the Currier Gallery of Art, Omar Lassonde took over her teaching position there.

In January of 1934 his first one-man Boston show was held at Miss Grace Horne’s Stuart street gallery. That same year, he exhibited at the Grand Palaise in Paris, and was elected to Societé Des Artists Francais. [Note: he held several one-man shows including in NYC, Boston, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville and he displayed his art at the NY and San Francisco World Fairs.]

From 1935-1943 Omar T. Lassonde served as the New Hampshire Federal Arts Program Director under the WPA (Works Progress Administration).  This project was established December 19, 1935 under his supervision with temporary headquarters located in Concord, and later opening a permanent headquarters in the W.P.A. Building (corner of Silver and Lincoln Streets) in Manchester. The purpose of this project was to create art consciousness throughout New Hampshire, and in doing so this project held over forty art exhibitions throughout the state. About 20 artists worked for the WPA/NHFAPcreating large-scale murals and sculptures for public spaces as well as small, portable artworks that toured in group exhibitions around the state.”  The NH State Library is the repository (now) of many of these works.

At this time, Omer also supervised the restoration of murals in the New Hampshire House and the creation of the New Hampshire portion of the Index of American Design. [info from the National Register of Historical Places, Nomination for for Lassonde House].

At home in Boscawen, Omer Lassonde and his wife, L.

At home in Boscawen, Omer Lassonde and his wife, Louisa (Tompkins) Lassonde. Photograph copyright Boscawen Historical Society. Used here with their permission

Louisa (Tompkins) Lassonde, a jewelry designer and weaver, met her future husband while they were both taking a watercolor class at the Manchester Institute of Arts and Sciences [a second version states that Omer was teaching the class]. “After the couple married in 1937 they began to travel all over the world. They traveled, and Lassonde painted and painted.” [Oct 4, 1987 Telegraph]

In 1940 Omer Lassonde was one of several people who founded the New Hampshire Art Association [per Nashua Telegraph, 4 October 1987]. Other “founders” include William Holst and Lotte Jacobi. Paul Sample was the association’s honorary president in 1941.

Omer Lassonde served as a private in World War II, in the Army Corps of Engineers.The US Dept. of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File states he enlisted 21 August 1942 and was honorably discharged 12 March 1943. Per writer, Jeanne McCartin, of Seacoast.com,  “He served at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard painting scenery for Army films and later painted scenes of Portsmouth.” He was a member of the America Legion Post of Penacook.

Omer purchased the oldest building in Boscawen in which to live and work,  setting up an art studio there. They lived here and also his wife had an inherited property on Hanover Street in Manchester New Hampshire [refer to Hill-Lassonde house]. [Editor’s update: the Manchester Union Leader newspaper of July 7, 2016 noted that this house was demolished by the Elm Grove Companies, and the lot used as a parking lot for The Flats at Hanover Common a 32-unit apartment complex. This 1850 house had been on a list of properties recommended to be saved by the NH Preservation Alliance.]  From at least 1957-1960, Omer and his wife Louisa also had a home in Pacific Grove, Monterey California, Bay View Ave., Inspiration Ave.

Omer Lassonde signature from one of his paintings.

Omer Lassonde signature from one of his paintings.

Omer Lassonde’s paintings can be found in many museums, galleries, and private collections [see examples here].  Some of those who sat for his portraits include: Portraits: James W. Hill, Gov. John Winant [Editor’s note: the portrait hanging in the NH State House is NOT the one Lassonde painted], J. Tamasese King of Samoa, and Dr. Housen of Temple University of PA [commissioned 1928 per newspaper article].  In 1960 he painted Manchester NH’s Smyth Mansion, aka “Willows” home to NH Governor Frederick Smyth (the actual house  was demolished in 1969).

Called "Fort Acres," when Omer Lassonde lived here, this property at 150 King Street in Boscawen today is known as the Robie-Merrill House. Photograph Copyright Debbie LaValley. Used here with her permission.

Called “Fort Acres,” when Omer Lassonde lived here, this property at 150 King Street in Boscawen today is known as the Robie-Merrill House. Photograph Copyright Debbie LaValley. Used here with her permission.

Omer T. Lassonde died on 28 December, 1980 at Concord Hospital, aged 77. The bearers at his funeral, all nephews, were Arthur Lassonde, Robert Lassonde, Richard Lassonde, Harold Lassonde, Sheldon Lassonde, and Donald Lassonde.  [see his genealogy below].He (and his wife) are buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Manchester NH.  As a tribute to his artistic legacy, his widow donated his colonial-era home “Fort Acres,” at 150 King Street in Boscawen (currently known as the Robie-Morrill House) to the New Hampshire Art Association, which (then) used the building as their headquarters, along with his many paintings. Many of these were sold by the Association to produce income, and the house too was eventually sold.

His obituary states these additional interests: Life member of the Manchester Institute of Arts and Sciences, Fellow of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and a Life Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters.  He was a member of the Andre Smith Art and Research Center, Maitland FL, the Loch Haven Art Association, Orlando FL, and the Carmel Art Association, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

At his death the New Hampshire Art Association began to (and continues to) hold an annual Omer T. Lassonde Memorial Juried Exhibition, each year in his memory.  The competition includes “fresh art” created within the past two years, and some expressly made for the show.  Media includes graphic art, drawing, painting, sculpture, collage,  and photography.

=====PARTIAL GENEALOGY OF OMER LASSONDE====

Etienne Stephen Lassonde, b Dec 1835 Quebec, Canada; d 4 April 1898 Lancaster NH; m. M. Philomene “Phebe” Guillet/Goulette, daughter of Alexandre & Marie Louise (Lacape/Lacasse) Guillet. She was b. abt 1838 Quebec and d. before 1893.
———————-
Children of Stephen & Phebe (Guillet) Lassonde:
1. Marie Lassonde
2. Aurelle Lassonde
3. Joseph Lassonde
4. Simeon Lassonde
5. +Frank Xavier Lassonde, b. Sept 1867 Lewiston, Maine
6. Marie Lassonde
7. Edward Lassonde.

Francois Xavier “Frank” Lassonde, son of Stephen & Phebe (Guilett) Lassonde, b Sept 1867 in Lewiston Maine, or Quebec Canada, d 21 July 1934 in Concord NH; m1st) Mary Auger, daughter of Peter & Sarah (Castine) Auger. She b abt 1871 Montreal Canada, d 20 July 1907 in Concord NH. He m2d) 3 Nov 1920 in Penacook NH to Anna “Annie” (Champagne) Ayotte, the widow of Edward Ayotte. They resided in Penacook. Children of Frank with his first wife, sometimes listed as being born in Boscawen and others in Concord NH. At birth of son Richard in 1897, residing Spring Street, Penacook NH, occupation: Blacksmith. He and his first wife are buried in Penacook Calvary Cemetery, Penacook NH.
———————–
1910 US Census > NH > Merrimack Co. > Concord Ward > 5 Spring St.
Frank Lassonde 40 Widow Maine Can-Eng Can-Eng Horseshoe-Blacksmith Shop
Edward F. Lassonde 15 sash & blind co.
Mary S. Lassonde 14
Richard F. Lassonde 13
Walter S. Lassonde 12
Edna J. Lassonde 11
William J. Lassonde 9
Aral J. Lassonde 8
Omer T. Lassonde 7
———————–
1920 US Census > NH > Merrimack Co. > Concord Ward 3 > Penacook Street
Frank Lassonde 50 Head M W widow Maine Can-Eng Can-Eng Farmer
Edward F. Lassonde son 25 boilermaker Railroad
Richard F. Lassonde son 23/22 boilermaker Railroad
Walter S. Lassonde son 22 —- Railroad
William J. Lassonde son 19 Bridge — Railroad
Harold J. Lassonde son 18 quarryman granite
Omer T. Lassonde 16 son automobile machinist
Polydore Lapierre 30 son-in-law NH Can Can
Lena M. Lapierre 24 daughter NH
Edward J. Stafford 28 son-in-law machinist railroad
Edna J. Stafford daughter 21
———————–
1930 US Census > NH > Merrimack Co. > Concord
Frank Lassonde Head M 62 Maine
Amna Lassonde wife F 56 Canada
Richard Lassonde son M 32 NH
Henry Princence son-in-law M 21 NH
Viola Ayotte, dau-in-law F 17 NH
Beatrice Ayotte daughter-in-law F 15 NH
Richard Ayotte son-in-law M 14 NH
Edward Lassonde Brother M 58 Canada
Elmer P. Stevens Helper M 37 NH
———————–
Children of Frank & Mary (Auger) Lassonde:
1. Edward F. Lassonde, b. 21 July 1895? NH; d. 19 May 1947 in Concord NH; Private, 115th Infantry, 29th NH Division, Machine Gun Co., enlisted age 23. Buried Calvary Cemetery, Penacook NH. He m. 3 November 1925 in Concord NH to Helen Mary Hurley, dau of Dennis & Mary (Lynch) Hurley. She b. 15 July 1897 in Concord NH, d. 17 June 1956 in Concord NH.  They had one child, Arthur Lassonde, b. 8 June 1926 Concord NH, d. 25 January 1994 Concord NH; Arthur m. 20 May 1950 in NH to Margaret Louise Wheeler, daughter of Perley E. & Amanda (Johnson) Wheeler. They lived at 71 Penacook Street in Concord NH. Arthur was a pall bearer at his uncle Omer’s funeral.
2. Lena Mary Lassonde, b. 10 November 1895 Boscawen NH, d. 4 July 1991; m. 10 Nov 1919 in Penacook NH to Joseph Polydore LaPierre, son of Alphonse & Mary L. (Racine) Lapierre. Children: Frank Alphonse Lapierre (b. 11 Sep 1920 in Concord NH, d. 26 July 1991), David O. LaPierre, (b. 31 Oct 1922 and d. 5 March 2005 Concord NH), and Lillian M. Lapierre (b. 6 Nov 1926, d. 16 Oct 2009 Concord NH, m. Emery E. Rule).  They are buried in Calvary Cemetery, Penacook NH.
3. Richard Francis Lassonde, b. 12 January 1897 Penacook (Concord), NH, d. 22 April 1964; m. Beatrice Lamotte, dau of Charles & Elizabeth (Kelley) Lamotte. daughter of Charles & Elizabeth (Kelley) Lamotte. She was b. 24 April 1905 in Jonesport Maine and d. 27 May 1958 in Concord NH.  Children: Richard F. Lassonde Jr., b. 1930; Sheldon F. Lassonde b 1935 NH, Donald C. Lassonde, b. 1939 NH.
4. Walter Samuel Lassonde, b. 4 January 1898 Concord NH; d. 20 January 1953 in Concord NH; m. 6 Sep 1920 in Concord NH to Mary E. Champagne, dau of Joseph D. & Harriet (Reney) Champagne.  Children: Robert Lassonde b 1921, d. 16 Sep 2011 NH; m. Evelyn Jean Elbridge, dau of Clarence & Helen (Shine) Elbridge; Walter Frank Lassonde b 1928 NH, m. 4 July 1959 in NH to Simone G. Richard, dau of Aime & Alice (Desrosiers) Richard; Raymond Lassonde, b. 1929 NH; Ann Mary Lassonde, b. 1933 NH, m. 11 Aug 1951 in NH to Raymond Webster Towle, son of Leon & Florence May (Seavey) Towle. She married 2d) — Fournier; and Roy Lassonde of Penacook NH.
5. Edna Josephine Lassonde, b. 9 January 1899 Concord, NH; m. 12 January 1920 in Concord NH to Edward J. Stafford, son of James H. & Elizabeth (Ward) Stafford. Children: Mildred Josephine Stafford (b 18 Aug 1920, d. 4 Sept 2009, m. Cleon D. Barton), Pearl Mary Stafford, b. 1922, d. 21 August 2007); Aline Ann Stafford, Pauline Marie Stafford, possibly others.
6. William John. Lassonde, b 24 June 1900 Concord NH, d. 2 Oct 1952 in Concord NH (accidental gunshot); m. 21 May 1923 in Concord NH to Roseanna B. Dion, dau of Amedia & Georgianna (Rocheleau) Dion; granite cutter. Children: Madeline Evelyn Lassonde, b. 1926, m. 10 Sep 1946 Concord NH to Clifford Allen Rogers, son of Jed & Mabel (Downs) Rogers; William J. Lassonde, b. 1931 NH; Ruth A. Lassonde, b. 1937 NH.
7. Harold Joseph Lassonde, b. abt 1902 NH, d. 13 Dec 1939;  He m. Marie/Mary Lamott(e). Children: Dorothy E. Lassonde, b. 1925 NH; and Harold Joseph Lassonde, b. 29 Sep 1932, d. 2 July 2010, and m. 27 July 1955 in NH to Beverly Ann Fournier, daughter of Georgianne Fournier.  Harold Jr. was a pall bearer at his uncle, Omer’s funeral.
8. +Omer Thomas Lassonde b 9 August 1903, d. Dec 1980 NH [SSDI]

1955 photograph of Omer Lassonde from NHN.

1955 photograph of Omer Lassonde from NHN.

Omer Thomas Lassonde [this story is about him, see above and photograhs], son of Frank & Mary (Auger) Lassonde, b. 9 August 1903 Penacook NH, d. December 1980 Concord, New Hampshire. He m. in 1937 to Louisa Ward Tompkins, daughter of Lucius W. & Alice (Boyd) Tompkins, b. 4 Oct 1895 Worcester MA; died 21 Dec 1991 NH. She was a jewelry maker and weaver.  He was an artist and colorist, known for landscape, still life, genre and figure painting. They appeared to have publicly lived apart until after her mother died in 1944.
—————————–
1940 US Census > NH > Merrimack > Boscawen > DW Highway > 296
Omar T. Lassonde, b abt 1904 NH, occupation: State Supervisor, NH Art Project Education: College, 5th or subsequent year; single
Barton, Cleon D Lodger M W 27 married co-2 NH artist, NH Art Project
Barton, Mildred J., lodger’s wife, F W 19 M h1 NH
Barton, Louisa, daughter of lodger F W 4/12 single NH
—————————
No children.

Editor’s Note:  My personal thanks to several people who helped make this story more interesting and accurate.  Thanks to Elaine Clow and Stephen Green of the Boscawen Historical Society who so generously shared their time and photographs.  Ongoing and deepest thanks to historian Ruth Speed (and the Penacook Historical Society) who continues to inspire me to write about Penacook New Hampshire people.  And last but not least, my thanks to Debbie LaValley who has a generous spirit and an amazing photography eye, for sharing her photographs with me (and you).

-Article updated April 13, 2017.
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14 Responses to Penacook New Hampshire’s Acclaimed Modernist Artist: Omer Thomas Lassonde (1903-1980)

  1. Virginia White says:

    Great article, Janice!

  2. Amy says:

    Interesting! I’ve never heard of him before. His paintings are wonderful.

  3. Fascinating! Do we have any more info on Cleon D. Barton, Omer’s lodger in Boscawen and an artist with NH Art Project?

    • Janice Brown says:

      Althea,
      Cleon Douglas Barton was the son of Forest Cleon & Mabel Zady/Zadie (Hartford) Barton, born 18 November 1912 in Concord NH and d. May 1980 in Merrimack Co. NH. His mother remarried Alfred Flamand, and he (and his older brother Maynard Barton) was living with them in 1930 in Concord NH. Cleon married 14 Feb 1939 in Penacook NH to Mildred Josephine Stafford, daughter of Edward J. & Edna (Lassonde) Stafford. [Note: Edna Lassonde was Omer’s sister, making Mildred Stafford his niece, and therefore Cleon D. Barton as his nephew-by-marriage]. Forest Barton was a clerk at Eagle Fruit Co. and they lived at 10 Valley St. [next to Forest St.]. Forest died 20 Sep 1920 in Concord NH, son of Robert & May Belle (Thompson) Barton. Cleon also had a brother Everett Woodbury Barton who was b. in 1907. According to a 1936 Telegraph newspaper article, Cleon studied art at the Boston and Worcester Art Museum and specialized in oil landscapes. He also studied with Omer T. Lassonde at the Institute of Arts and Sciences. In 1936 eight of his paintings were on display at the Concord Public Library. Cleon lived in Concord and in Boscawen NH. He exhibited at Concord Academy in Center MA, and at the Currier Gallery in Manchester NH. His works can be found at the University of NH, and at Public Libraries in Nashua and Somersworth NH. In 1960 working as a painter and decorator. Here is a picture of Cleon from the Nashua Telegraph newspaper. Here is a sampling of some of his work.

  4. Suzanne Carmichael says:

    Hi Janice, The second son of Richard Francis Lassonde is Sheldon, not Glendon. That’s my uncle 🙂

  5. K COLLINS says:

    Thank you for this article! Thanks also to Elaine and Steve

  6. Fred says:

    My great grandfather was Omer T. Lassonde fathers brother.
    Fred Walter Lassonde

  7. rebecca savage says:

    Omer is my great Uncle on my mother’s side. My Mom use to tell me stories of his travels and his art. One painting that she mentioned in particular was of horses that Omer had hanging on the wall. She had always wondered where that painting had ended up. My children took art classes at the house located in Boscawen NH, (in the barn to be exact) a time after Omer had passed away and donated the home to his passion.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Rebecca, thank you for sharing your story. He was a very talented man, and I felt that everyone should know more about him. I have no idea about where the horse painting ended up. If you feel I have left anything important out of his story, I hope you will let me know.

  8. Sharon Rivet says:

    I enjoyed his painting when growing up. My dad Cleon was also a talented painter. Glad to see his work will be seen again.

  9. Omer T. L. Barton says:

    Janice would you please correct my mother’s name you have her listed as Milford Josephine Stafford and it was Mildred Josephine Stafford.
    I enjoyed viewing the article on my great Uncle Omer as I was named after him. I so enjoyed seeing my Dad’s early work (Cleon) also.
    Great article in “Who’s who in American Art” on my Dad Cleon.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Omer, thank you for the correction. I had your mother’s name okay in one place but not in the 2nd one. You come from a very talented family. If you know of a good resource link with artwork or biography for your father Cleon, I would welcome your posting it.

  10. Brandon Bry Cortes says:

    As I speak, my beautiful auntie Pamela Barton is painting a gorgeous oil painting of St. Mary’s Assumption for the Franciscan chapel here in Bloomington, Indiana, I asked her if she would. In my humble opinion auntie Pam’s paintings are far superior to grandpa Cleon’s canvases. Her canvases are so beautiful.

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