• By Kirk Gaw

John Thomas Show Celebrates 6 Decades At Heartland Gallery

John Thomas was raised in the South Bend area during his early life and attended school there from 2nd to 8th grade. It was during this time of the 1950's and early 60's that he recognized a struggle with the saturation of "abstract expressionism" in the world void of reflections in reality. He knew at the time he was meant for photo realism and embraced change.

It was during high school that his mother recognized his interests and urged him to participate in the art program at Washington High School and then on to Jackson High School where he graduated in 1969. He already abandoned his teenage plans for law school knowing art was for him.

John Thomas chose to stay in the area and attended IUSB where he was inspired by Tuck Langland's sculpture classes and painting under the guidance of Tony Droege. Here, John knew that teaching was for him and took on a new job for the high school art program that happened in Walkerton 43 years ago. Since the first year in 1973 his art department at John Glenn High School won 25 achievement awards from the Scholastic Art Awards in New York.

Many of his students have gone on to become professional artists. People like our own Ken Rohrer - Art Educator - Graphic Designer, my brother Clyde Gaw - Indiana Art Education Advocate, Jill Davis - Smithsonian Institution - US Mint, James Godwin - New York commercial artist - fine arts National Award winner, Richard Jones - Hollywood Motion Picture film industry veteran, and Cary Zartman - commercial artist - graphic designer - advertising agency.

Going through his scrapbook John Thomas reminisces his experiences with top talents. Here James Godwin under his guidance while at John Glenn High School.

When John Thomas came on at the John Glenn program it only had "art," and "advanced art." He was able to install a full four year program to inspire area kids for college level courses. He brought "life drawings" to the forefront of the wild and experimental semesters spent there. Students were enthusiastic to learn every technique that John could teach them! He promoted their work for National Awards and confirmed their skills at early stages. He gave them strengths they didn't know they had!

John Thomas today, is with his wife Jo who has supported him for over 40 years. She has given him 2 daughters. Jo once built John a studio addition onto their home so, he can create more art and play his music. He says he is blessed with his kids and 8 grandchildren. The Plymouth exhibit will include tender paintings of John with some of the grandkids. John is very proud of his diverse collection of over 100 works ready to be sold.

He has always been committed to his life in Indiana and kept himself from moving to New York. He and Jo wanted to be close to loved ones. He continues to reflect on his career of distinctions since, attaining his Notre Dame Master of Art degree in 1977. He is proud of the 50 + students who went on to win National Awards, and that he himself who twice, won John Glenn "Teacher Of The Year," and won 25 National Awards for Excellence In Art Education.

The Heartland Artists Gallery in Plymouth is very pleased to have John as a new member of Heartland Artists, and especially excited to have him as their "Featured Artist of the Month" for January. Although John directs this exhibit of classic motorcycles, guns and guitars to a male audience, everyone will find his attention to detail amazing and will marvel at the way he handles reflections and color.

John offered a class in Beginning Portrait Drawing last month which was very well attended, and he plans to offer other classes in the coming year. It was gratifying to see how many of his former students took the class saying they wanted to brush up on their skills he taught them years ago.

He retired from John Glenn in 2017 but, continues to paint using a variety of media – oils, watercolor and acrylic. His favorite subjects are figures and portraits. Inspired by the smooth look of the airbrush, he mastered the tool and is known for his large airbrushed paintings on canvas.

The photo-realistic images have won him many awards throughout the years. Included in this list are the Blueberry Festival, Indiana State Fair, Starke County Fine Arts commission, South Bend Michiana Regional Competition, Mid States Show in Evansville and Heartland Artists Regional Show. His art work is in the permanent collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Evansville Museum Art and Science, and Bristol Meyer Squibb Corporation.

His show runs the month of January beginning on Jan. 2. All are invited to his opening reception on Sunday, January 5th, from 1 – 3 PM, Art Talk at 2:00. Come and view the art of our featured artist as well as other Heartland Artist Members.

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