A major contributor to the arts in Memphis from the 1950s until his death in 1985, Edward Spencer Faiers was significant as a teacher and an artist. He moved to Memphis in 1952 and joined the faculty of the Memphis Academy of Art (now the Memphis College of Art). As an artist he is best known for his fifty-one-panel mural for the First Tennessee Bank headquarters in Memphis.
Faiers was born in Newquay, England, in 1908 and was raised in Canada. In 1941, he began his formal training in painting at the University of Alberta, where he remained until 1946. He spent one year, 1942, under a scholarship at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Banff. From 1947 to 1948 Faiers taught at the University of Alberta. During his time in Canada, Faiers focused on stylized landscape and genre paintings that took on regional themes, as seen in his depictions of Canadian towns, Mining Town, Crows Nest Pass (1948), and Cardston (1949).
Around 1951, Faiers left Canada to study at the Art Students League in New York. He worked with artist Will Barnet, who exposed him the American Modernism movement of Indian Space Painting. Combining Native American patterns and motifs with the Cubist style of Picasso, this movement challenged artists to create a new form of American painting. Faiers left New York in 1952 for the Memphis Academy of Art, where he continued to explore the idea of pattern and abstraction throughout the 1950s, fully developing his own style in the 1960s and 1970s. Faiers remained at the Memphis Academy of Art for twenty-five years, teaching drawing, painting, and printmaking. He later served as chairman of the Painting Department and became professor emeritus upon his retirement in 1977.
In 1979, after his retirement, Faiers received a commission from First Tennessee Bank to create a fifty-one-panel, sixteen-hundred-square-foot mural depicting the social and cultural history of Tennessee for the First Tennessee Heritage Collection at the bank’s Memphis headquarters. By this time, Faiers had established his technique of stretching canvases over three-dimensional, low-relief, wood carvings. Utilized in the bank murals, this method allowed Faiers to put the subjects and characters of Tennessee history into the viewers’ space. Faiers died in 1985 prior to the completion of the project, leaving his former student, Betty Gilow, to execute the remaining panels.
Faiers’s works have been exhibited in museums across the state, including the Cheekwood Museum of Art, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the Tennessee State Museum, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. His paintings have visited other galleries across the Southeast and in California, New York, and Canada. The David Lusk Gallery in Memphis currently holds his estate.
Celia Walker, “Century of Progress: Twentieth Century Painting in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 61 (2002): 4-73