Eugene Thaw speaks during a dinner as he gifts his Tesuque estate to SFI.

Eugene (Gene) Thaw, a friend and patron of the Institute, passed away Wednesday, January 3, at the age of 90.

Both Gene and his wife Clare Thaw (1924-2017) were avid art collectors and supporters of animal rights, the arts, long-term environmental sustainability, and SFI. In 2013 they transferred ownership of their 36-acre estate in Tesuque, NM to SFI, with the vision of providing scientists an inspiring place to collaborate and conduct research. 

“Gene was a very unique man. He was intellectual and very personable, and had a great intuition,” says SFI Distinguished Professor and Past President Geoffrey West. “We’ve lost a friend, no question.”

During Thaw’s career as an appraiser and dealer of fine artwork, he worked with private clients and major museums. The New York Times reported that he started his first gallery in 1950 by scouring thrift stores and small auction houses for stock. The son of a schoolteacher and heating contractor, Thaw got his start without any personal fortune or connections to the art world. 

“New York City was full of chances and opportunities in those days,” Thaw told James McElhinney, who interviewed him for the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. The first major drawing Thaw purchased was a small Rembrandt, for $3,500, which he paid for in $300 installments. Thaw was an early admirer of Jackson Pollock, and with the cooperation of Pollock’s widow Lee Krasner, he compiled and co-authored a definitive multi-volume collection of the artist’s works.

Throughout his career, he and Clare acquired an unparalleled personal collection of paintings, prints, and Old-Master drawings. The Thaws continued to collect art in their retirement and began studying and collecting Native American artwork when they retired to New Mexico. They established a philanthropic trust, endowed from the 1981 sale of a single Van Gogh painting from their personal collection.  

The Thaws used their trust to advance the arts and sciences and to protect the environment and animal welfare. They gave to The Santa Fe Opera and financed the construction of a veterinary hospital at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. Their trust also funded early SFI research into biological scaling laws led by Geoffrey West and Jim Brown (University of New Mexico). 

“Mr. Thaw really liked and respected what the Institute had done and was doing in complexity studies, and he especially admired Geoffrey (West) and his work,” recalls External Professor and Past President Jeremy Sabloff. “He really wanted Geoffrey to write a general introduction to his research and supported him in those efforts.”

Thaw’s relationship with the Institute began in the early 1990’s after he and Clare moved to Santa Fe. Thaw attended an SFI Community Lecture by Geoffrey West, who at the time led the high-energy physics group at Los Alamos National Lab. Intrigued by West’s investigation into the origins of mathematical scaling laws that dictate lifespan and metabolism across species, Thaw worked with SFI Past President Ellen Goldberg to establish a full-time faculty position for West at SFI. He continued to support West’s research as it extended to scaling laws that govern cities and socioeconomic phenomena and encouraged West to write a book about his work for a popular audience. Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies was published in May of 2017, some eight months before Thaw’s passing.

Eugene and Clare Thaw are survived by their son and a granddaughter. 

They leave beauty in their wake, having donated their meticulously chosen artwork to The Morgan Library and Museum (New York, NY), the Fenimore Museum (Cooperstown, NY), the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (New York, NY), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), among other recipients. 

To SFI, the Thaws left their home and property in Tesuque, which serves as a contemplative setting for scholars and visitors. When Thaw finalized the gift of his estate in 2012, he also honored the Institute with a heartfelt and erudite recognition of its significance:

"When I think about the world of science, when everything is going down the tubes and when ignorance is on the rise, if you could save one place that might start discursive thinking all over again, it would be the Santa Fe Institute."

Gene, you shall not be forgotten.

Read The New York Times' obituary for Gene Thaw (January 5, 2018)