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Sallie Casey Thayer

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Sallie Casey Thayer

Donated 7,500 art objects to the University of Kansas in 1917 which later became the University of Kansas Museum of Art


Born as Sallie Casey in Covington, Kentucky on Valentine’s Day, 1856, she was a great-grandniece of US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Her family became prominent in state politics and the Cincinnati tobacco industry. After graduating from a women’s college, she traveled throughout North America, eventually taking a trip to Kansas City to visit Isabelle Thayer, a friend from college. (The Thayer family also had a distinguished lineage with Kentucky roots – one ancestor was John Adair, Revolutionary General and Kentucky governor from 1820-1824.) She met Isabelle’s brother Will, who had come out to the booming young city in 1871 and had established himself as an up-and-comer in KC’s dry goods industry.

Will and Sallie were married in 1880. Their only son, William, Jr., was born in 1882. Two years later, Thayer became a partner in his dry goods firm, and by 1895, the flourishing downtown KC emporium became known as Emery, Bird, Thayer & Co. Thayer was a founding member of the Kansas City Commercial Club, forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce. His influence in the city and the success of his business enterprise allowed the Thayers extensive time to travel. The first article in the Thayer art collection was purchased in Nantucket in the early 1880s, a blue and white tile from an eighteenth-century home about to be razed.

In 1901, the Thayers made their first trip to Europe, where Sallie accumulated a number of significant works. They built a house in Westport shortly after their return. Known as “Sevenoaks,” it was located at the corner of 46th and Warwick. Unfortunately, William Thayer was unable to enjoy his wealth for long; he contracted pneumonia in early 1907 and died on March 31 of that year. Sallie Thayer never remarried. Instead, she indulged in her passion for art, and began collecting extensively always with an eye to improving the cultural experience of Kansas Citians, especially the young.

On June 2, 1917, Sallie Casey Thayer of Kansas City, having given up on her hometown’s ability to establish a significant public art gallery, agreed to donate her extensive collection to KU. Estimated to be worth at least $150,000, this remarkably diverse bequest contained original paintings by artists such as Winslow Homer and Robert Henri, Asian and Native American art objects, antique textiles, and over 2,000 glass pieces from virtually every era. Her collection later became the University of Kansas Museum of Art.

(adapted from kuhistory.com)

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