Howard Thomas (1899-1971) born a Quaker in Ohio, trained in the Midwest at Ohio State University and the Chicago Art Institute.  He taught in the Art Department of the Milwaukee State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) where he became good friends with Carl Holty, Edward Boerner, Robert von Neumann and Gustave Moeller. Thomas was a painter of the American scene from the beginning of his career to the mid 1940s.  He had been investigating cubism during the mid-to-late 1930s.  Thomas made his first trip to the South for a speaking engagement in 1941 and the red earth around Asheville, North Carolina interested him.  Thus began his use of earth as a pigment source.  In the tradition of old masters, he used mortar and pestle to mix his pigments.  Thomas sought natural materials from wherever he traveled around the world and kept a concise diary with painting codes of the gritty earth pigments and dense earth colors for his paintings. After 1942, Thomas worked permanently in the South.  He was an enthusiastic teacher at the University of Georgia where he arranged for Carl Holty, an authority on modern painting, to become artist-in-residence. The “transformation” in Thomas’ painting was the result of interaction with Holty.  His progression from regionalist imagery of the 1930s to abstract imagery of the 1950s was done with great deliberation.  Thomas gradually eliminated the ideas of foreground and background. Thomas consistently used music as an impetus for his painting.  He placed the surface to be painted on the floor and worked with sweeping rhythmic movements to Bach, Vivaldi or Haydn.Although Thomas painted in the South after 1942, his Milwaukee association had shaped the most important concepts of his intellectual and artistic maturation, especially his exceptional visual memory. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.

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