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Boardman Robinson

Thomas Rhodes

In Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology, Thomas Rhodes is a prominent banker and businessman whose reckless management costs the town’s citizens their life’s savings. Escaping legal redress, his character boasts unrepentantly that those like himself, the “seekers of earth’s treasures, getters and hoarders of gold,” will survive contentedly to the ends of their lives, and the “liberals, and navigators into realms intellectual, . . . sailors through heights imaginative” will suffer misery from which no degree of scholarly wisdom can spare them. Boardman Robinson’s portrayal of Rhodes, created for the Limited Editions Club reprint of Masters’s collection of poems, captures the banker’s self-satisfied demeanor in brusque paint and blustery gesture. Thomas Rhodes is one of thirty images Robinson painted to illustrate the anthology’s fragmented narratives, which weave a tale of small-town American life and expose the foibles of human nature.

An instructor at the Art Students League during the 1920s, Robinson had founded and was serving as head of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center when this work was selected for inclusion in the State Department’s traveling exhibition of watercolors to China. Although Robinson ultimately settled in the American West, the Nova Scotia native of Irish descent had studied in Boston and Paris, resided briefly in San Francisco, traveled through Eastern Europe with journalist John Reed, and spent years in New York, where he created political cartoons and illustrations for such socialist publications as The Masses and The Liberator alongside the more mainstream New York Times, Harper’s, and New York Tribune.

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