A s a curator, he organizes exhibitions, gives lectures, writes catalogs, and handles countless other tasks for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. As a husband, father, and man of many interests, Stanton Thomas rehabs his century-old house, keeps up with a 6-month-old daughter, entertains with his wife, Genevieve Hill-Thomas, tends a flock of hens, and is learning to play the banjo. He also claims to make a divine omelet.
You live in Midtown, right? Yes, right behind the Annesdale mansion. It’s an enormous four-square. And I spend an enormous amount of time on it. Or at least I did before the baby.
Your first child? She is. Her name is Gwendolyn, because she arrived on March 1st. That is St. David’s Day, and he was the patron saint of Wales. I have a lot of Welsh blood and we decided she wanted a Welsh name.
She’s changed your life. Oh, yes. We have lots and lots of books and art and piles of things and suddenly there’s this baby. And she races around the house in a little baby car instilling terror, scaring the dogs.
Besides Gwendolyn, you also raise hens. How did that start? When we moved to Memphis 10 years ago, my wife said she’d like to have chickens. I grew up on a farm and we always had them, and I thought it was a good idea. This was about the time the home poultry movement started in cities. We decided to do it in style. I found a photograph of a French colonial chicken house from south Louisiana, and we adapted that. It has louvers and a little cupola on top.
How many hens? When you order them by mail you have to get 20; they need to be en masse in order to stay warm enough to survive. Now, that’s more chickens than any person needs, and 15 of them were roosters. Certainly 15 more roosters than we needed! Specialists can supposedly tell their gender, but the specialist checking that day must have been tired since we got mainly roosters. Now we have four hens, a white cochin, a leghorn, a black rock, and an Americana.
They give you pleasure? Yes, they make a charming sound. Chickens have a reputation for being stupid and they do have a brain the size of a walnut. But they’re pleasant and funny and sociable. Once I was sitting in the dining room typing on my computer and three hens wandered in to see what I was doing. Maybe they thought I was pecking at corn. Our two dogs, both rescues, have reached a detente with them and keep a respectful distance.
You must get a lot of eggs to cook with. The best thing in the world is a plain omelet. You just add a little chopped tarragon, basil, whatever you have on hand, and it’s simple and divine.
Do the eggs taste any different than store-bought? [Leaning closer in a confidential manner] I don’t think so.
I believe you like to entertain? We do. We have a wet bar. I’m a recovering alcoholic but my wife likes making nawleki — infused spiced fruit liqueurs. She also makes special martinis. She’s very popular in our neighborhood.
Other hobbies? I’m learning to play the banjo. My brother gave me one for my birthday one year. I love bluegrass and more and more I’m loving hill country blues. Someday I’ll fulfill that dream of playing a banjo and not embarrassing myself.
What’s showing at the Brooks in November? “Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt.” Some pets were mummified, but others were done as votive offerings to certain gods. The Egyptians believed the animal could serve as a messenger to communicate the human’s desire directly to the god in the other world. Millions of animals have been found — ibis, shrews, crocodiles, baboons, snakes, cats, dogs . . .
Any hens? I don’t think there was a god linked to them. The gods’ qualities were either nurturing and benevolent or strong and violent. But chickens, not so much.
You’re also a biker. Or, again, you were before baby. We used to ride the Greenline and we will again. You get used to riding; it’s a great stress reliever. Now I try to ride in the mornings if I can. But yes, there’s baby. And baby and I are both growing.