Remembering An Eclectic Artisan: John H. Thom

"When I came home from Korea in '54, John was about twelve," remembered James Alexander Thom. "We were not close, but I was aware that he was a talented kid."

  • two artists at work

    Image 1 of 2

    Photo: Wylie House Museum

    John Thom and Isiah Killion at work in the entryway to the Wylie House Museum at 307 E. Second Street.

  • ceiling mural representing female face with marcel wave

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    Photo: courtesy The Scholars Inn

    A mural by John Thom graces the ceiling of the bar on the second story of the Scholars Inn.

James H. Thom, age 72, of Bloomington passed away…surrounded by close relatives and loving friends.”–Bloomington Herald Times, July 26, 2013.

Thom was a versatile creator who left behind a wide variety of work including antique restorations, faux finishes, murals in traditional styles, and his own Dali-esque paintings.

Born in Indianapolis, Thom studied art at the Herron School and in New York. In New York he also learned furniture restoration. “He was able to carve and replace just about anything to make it look the way it had looked or to do things that looked like old things,” explains older brother and neighbor, novelist James Alexander Thom.  “Anything that was required to get a project done, he just seemed to know how to do it or to figure it out very quickly.”

He was just a very eclectic kind of fellow who was perfectly happy to do an antique restoration or to paint an extraordinary canvas. It was all the same to him.

“He was just a very eclectic kind of fellow who was perfectly happy to do an antique restoration or to paint an extraordinary canvas. It was all the same to him,” says journalist, author, and friend Doug Wissing.

In Bloomington at the corner of Sixth and College, there is a mural on the walls of The Scholars Inn Bakehouse that some think echoes the style of Grant Wood. Just across the street and up the steps in the Monroe County Courthouse there are the columns that he and apprentice Isiah Killion painted to look like richly veined marble.  At Wylie House Museum over on Second Street the entryway sports a primitive-style mural that depicts buildings from the area back in the nineteenth century, the structure that first housed Indiana University among them.  Thom was also commissioned to create murals in residential settings.

Recently at a Bloomington Gallery Walk viewers got to sample John Thom’s special personal vision in a series of canvases. “They’re all surrealist-based,” says Killion. “A lot of people call them Dali cartoons. They’re kind of a mixture of Picasso with Dali.”

“The art he best mastered,” according to his obituary, “was the art of friendship.”

“His philosophy of life…I characterize as a very Zen way of thinking about things,” says friend Doug Wissing.

“…always understated…a wonderful spirit…”says ‘Strats’ Stratigos who commissioned the mural at the Bakehouse.

“He kept kind of a low profile,” Thom’s older brother James remembers. “If I would try to put a label on him it would be a ‘Bohemian-Buddhist…he had a real deep spiritual side.”

George Walker

George Walker was born in Winchester, Virginia, and raised in Owl’s Head, Maine, and Valhalla, New York. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he came to Bloomington in 1966 and completed an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University. George began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Currently, along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists in a wide variety of areas and reviews plays and operas. He’s the proud father of grown sons Ben Walker (and his wife Elise Katzif Walker) and Aaron Walker. In his time away from WFIU, George enjoys an active life with wife Carolyn Lipson-Walker, singing, reading, exercising and playing guitar.

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