“The thing about painting portraits, you see, is how alive it makes you feel. . . it’s strange because everything about it is so still . . . the model rarely speaks, the brush hardly makes a sound. . At times it gets so quiet, you can hear the paint breathe! . . The reds and yellows pant . . the blues and greens sigh . . & black makes absolutely no sound at all! …You see unless you can hear the paint, nothing will happen! That’s one of the mysteries! Another is that while you’re concentrating like crazy, focusing your technique into a deadly lens. . you’ve got to forget yourself, just pour our everything like sour milk & let the model fill you. . . glide thru your pores until you feel their brown eyes glinting behind your green ones. . . their softer cheekbones thudding against your severe ones . . . . What’s really uncanny is . . they have really absolutely no idea what you’re up to! . . ! To be so ignored . . while so enthralled. . ! It takes your breath away!”
- from Painting Churches by Tina Howe,
copied into Thayer’s commonplace book
During her lifetime, Thayer was probably best known for her portraits, in oil and charcoal. Her very first solo exhibition, at Doll & Richards in Boston in 1930, which included six life-size oil portraits (two self portraits among them) and several charcoal portraits, was so successful that it brought the young artist sixteen commissions. Thayer continued her portrait work until her mid-eighties, partly because of her fascination with human nature, and partly because she felt that it was her trade. Her less formal figure work and quick sketches of soldiers in 1944 were also remarkable for their psychological keenness and humorous insight.