Dr. William Lehman Guyton, surgeon, dies

He had donated his noted collection of American silhouettes to Colonial Williamsburg

  • William L. Guyton
William L. Guyton
May 30, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Dr. William Lehman Guyton, a retired surgeon, World War II combat veteran and pre-eminent collector of American silhouettes, died May 23 of pneumonia at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville.

He was 96.

The son of a physician and a homemaker, Dr. Guyton was born and raised in Baltimore. He was a 1931 graduate of City College and a 1934 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

He earned his medical degree in 1938 from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and completed his surgical internship and residency at the old Church Hospital in 1942, when he was commissioned in the Army.

Dr. Guyton served with the Army Medical Corps as a combat surgeon with Gen. George S. Patton Jr., who commanded the 3rd Army.

He first joined General Patton's forces in North Africa, and later participated in the Italian campaign and Battle of the Bulge.

"He loved to talk about General Patton," said William F. Blue, who was Dr. Guyton's legal representative and longtime friend.

"I remember him telling me that General Patton came into a hospital tent to visit the wounded, and one of the soldiers complained about slow mail delivery," recalled Mr. Blue. "General Patton blew his stack, shook up things, and thereafter the mail arrived on time."

Discharged in 1945 with the rank of captain, Dr. Guyton's decorations included the Bronze Star with five combat stars.

Dr. Guyton settled in Waynesboro, Pa., in 1946, where he practiced surgery for the next 38 years before retiring in 1984 and moving to Broadmead.

During his career in Waynesboro, he was chief of surgery and secretary of the medical staff at Waynesboro Hospital.

He and his wife, the former Mary Bellringer Benedict, whom he married in 1943, were collectors whose combined interests ranged from furniture, paintings and textiles to amassing one of the most important collections of American silhouettes in the world, experts say.

The word silhouette is derived from Etienne de Silhouette, who had been appointed minister of finance by French King Louis XV, and was known for his cutting of government expenses and being a proponent of cheap money. His hobby was cutting "shadow pictures," and it was another profilist, August Edouart, who dubbed them "silhouettes."

Dr. and Mrs. Guyton preferred to stay in the background and were extremely modest when it came to their collecting, but were quite generous regarding their donations to various museums, according to Mr. Blue.

Dr. Guyton donated the majority of his silhouette collection to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and four years ago established the Mary B. and William Lehman Guyton Fund at the museum.

"The Guytons have also funded the Guyton Gallery at the folk art museum," said Kenneth M. Wolfe, director of planned giving programs at Colonial Williamsburg.

Barbara R. Luck, who is curator of paintings, drawings and sculpture at Colonial Williamsburg, said the Guyton silhouette collection is "notable for its diversity."

"They were hollow-cut, cut-and-paste, and painted. They were mostly American, with some English examples," said Ms. Luck. "They incorporated so many different techniques. One example featured a lock of hair under glass and others with press-printed borders."

Ms. Luck recalled on visits to Broadmead that some silhouettes hung on the walls of Dr. Guyton's study while others were neatly stored in drawers and a closet.

"The silhouettes on the study walls were ones he wanted to keep as long as he was alive," she said.

The collection at the folk art museum is made up of more than 220 silhouettes, and the gallery he funded is conducive to their long-term conservation and preservation.

"It was designed for light-sensitive material like paper, so we could leave them up without causing fading or the paper becoming brittle," Ms. Luck said.

Dr. Guyton was the author of "A Basic Guide to Identifying and Evaluating American Silhouettes," a 1990 monograph that he wrote with his wife and James M. Koening.

"The silhouette is the oldest form of art known to man. The prehistoric cave paintings, the murals on the walls of the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs and the encaustic designs on Etruscan vases depict the activities, life styles, and heroes of their times," he wrote.

"Today," he continued, "American silhouettes tell us much about the early days and fashions of our country," and "despite their importance in the area of American art history, they have been a neglected part of our artistic heritage."

Ms. Luck said that Dr. Guyton was "always coming up with surprises," such as an 1886 fan quilt that had been hooked by Baltimorean Elize Blackwell Clarke, copper plate engravings, and his extensive collection of books relating to silhouettes.

She recalled him as a man with "a great sense of humor who never rattled on about himself or about his life."

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