SPENCER BAIRD NICHOLS (1875-1950)

"Washington D.C."

"Washington D.C."

Watercolor on Paper 20105

Spencer Baird Nichols (1875-1950)

Spencer Baird Nichols' was born in 1875, and his childhood was spent in Washington, D.C. where he attended the Corcoran School of Art and the Washington Art Students' League.  At Corcoran he studied under Howard Helmick, a student of James McNeill Whistler.  At the age of 17, he was appointed an Instructor of Illustration at the Art Students' League.

His father, Henry Hobart Nichols, was an eminent wood engraver who won a gold medal at the 1876 Centennial Exhibit in Philadelphia.

For a time Spencer worked for the Geological Survey and the National Museum, and in 1911 he finished a portrait of Andrew Stephenson, Speaker of the House, which was hung in the Speaker's Lobby of the House of Representatives. This was a great achievement for a young artist- and is still recognized as one of his most impressive accomplishments.

For a number of years until World War I, he was Chief Designer of the Louis Comfort Tiffany studios, designing mosaics, windows and interiors, as well as painting murals for the firm, all under the signature of Tiffany. Because of this steady income, he was able to marry Helen- with whom he would have four children. Unfortunately in 1922 their first son died of typhoid which led them to move- to Kent, Connecticut. There he did murals for the WPA in the Kent, Litchfield and New Milford schools in Connecticut.

He served for a short time during the Spanish American War and during the first World War was a navy camafleur. 

Much of Mr. Nichols' work was destroyed in a disastrous fire in his house and studio in 1932.  Due to the financial strain of losing his life’s work, from 1934 he was Director of Art at Marot Jr. College in Thompson, Connecticut until 1941 when the school closed.

He was a member of the Washington Water Color Club, Society of Washington Artists, The Salmagundi Club, the National Arts Club, and was elected as an Associate of the National Academy of Design, and in 1933 to the status of full academician.

Illustrations of children's books were his favorite, and he did Dickens's Christmas Carols, Oscar Wilde's Little Prince, and a number of books of poetry by Alfred Noyes published by Frederick A. Stokes & Company.

Among his many prizes were the 3rd Corcoran Prize, Society of Washington Artists and at the National Academy of Design two Ranger Fund Purchase Awards and the coveted Altman prize.

Nichols died on August 28, 1950, in Kent, Connecticut following "a long illness" according to his obituary in the New York Times.

Biography adapted from his daughter, Helen Nichols Jacobs’, account.

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