|"The Major as I Knew Him", by William C. Weaver, March 1, 2007
A Glimpse of the Life of Major Henri Dourif
Major Henri Dourif was a most unusual man; a man of vision, a man of the world, and a man who engaged
the community he lived in, without regard to its size, or relative significance, as one might judge from any
Pilot, soldier, husband & father; worldly for certain, but deeply concerned with colour, and from that art,
or perhaps in symphony, passionately concerned with the power of colour as it comes to us in art and
As we knew the Dourif’s, they were very supportive of the arts, and in particular my mother’s efforts, as she
tried to put together art shows for the Huntington Gallery in the late 1950s. My mother’s name was
Elouise Cleland Weaver. She was the acting administrator of the Huntington Gallery after Tom Tibbs took
a quickly offered position in a larger city.
The Major, as I knew him, was a very proud man, but also very deferential to the opinion of women about
colours. He treated women with the greatest of respect, and treated men in a way that made it clear he was
intrepid. He made the comment at one of our meetings that “the women of the world keep us ever mindful
of the beauty in it, and it is our job (men) to keep them safe as they do this”.
At random, he would depart the plant early, and come to his home, up 8th Street Road, to his small castle.
This place had a huge porch, which overlooked the whole of Huntington, and he could see the plant
(Standard Ultra Marine and Dye Company), and watched carefully for what came out of the stacks, and
when. He had some very powerful binoculars, and would say that he thought he learned more about what
was really right or wrong on his porch, than he did at the plant, where everything was right in his face.
I don’t mean to imply that the Major was overly friendly to me, but he was passionately concerned with
colour, and the smooth operation of the plant, and his comments were intimate disclosures, but as one
would let his mind come out from his mouth, yet not necessarily with regard to who was present at the
moment. He did know I was an aspiring chemist and doctor, and had been brought up in a home where no
wall lacked some significant work of art.
He used to say of colour that “if it exists as a tone we can see, then it must be possible for us to create it”
He was very determined. He had a powerful faith in himself, and man in general. And, like most
determined men, he was sure that every other person had this nature. Therefore, it was frequently his
misfortune to be perceived as less than compassionate.
I observed him taking a preview of an art show, which he had helped my mother assemble for the
Huntington Gallery. He could examine a picture for an extended period of time, and was fascinated with
the portion of the mind that could take a mess of dots and dabs, as in Monet, and complete the symphony
of meaning inside the mind, to a point of beauty, far beyond what was actually on the canvass.
As for me, I became an aquatic toxicologist. Some of my most challenging battles have been with dyes, and
in particular those dyes that require chromium six to express their full depth, and impart their greatest
retention. There were times, in my frustration, when I was sure that a small conversation with the Major
might have led me to some resolution between man’s desire to make and use colour, and yet be able to
neutralize the means of that process, before its waste was discharged into rivers and streams. My biggest
battle took place in 1990, and the Major was long away by then. But I did think of him, and did wish I
could have just a few words in private, on how we might have colour, and still reside in peace with nature.
It is true , as Winston Churchill said, that there is no such thing as history, but only biography. Of
course, it takes people who have personal knowledge of other human beings for accuracy to have any chance
at all in this world. Major Henri Dourif was in my life only a few moments at a time, and those moments
were mostly concerned with art and not the manufacture of dyes. Yet, a glimpse is better than nothing at
I had even thought that some good screenwriter could make a great movie out of Henri Dourif’s life. He
had the character which made him loveable and detestable within the same body. He had a lifestyle that was
worldly and colloquial, at the same time. That is, he did travel from France to America and back a number
of times, but as he lived in Huntington, he was concerned with its well being, and especially its cultural
advancement. To me, this is the stuff of a great story. He was a warrior who loved beauty, and home.
If we aspire to matter in this world, the struggle between man’s passions, and the social requirement of
tolerance and forbearance, is an everlasting war for all. Madame Dourif was a saving grace for the Major.
She loved him well, and provided the necessary buffer between his raspy moods, and the need to get the
cooperation of other human beings. She served him well, and helped him to serve his community with
graciousness and extended generosity. Industrialist for sure, but a man who loved the larger things in life
|Major Henri Dourif, Vice President and Co-founder
of Standard Ultramarine and Color Co., Huntington, WV, 1925
Photo Courtesy of Dabney Dourif Lee. Click to Enlarge