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Thom Atkins and his Art

A fifth generation Californian, Thom was born in Palo Alto, raised in Minnesota, and returned to California to earn a BA in Art from San Jose State. Following college, he joined the Navy for four years, during which he taught oil painting while stationed in Japan, completed Medical Illustration School in Bethesda, Maryland, and did illustrations for the Navy at the Smithsonian Institute. After the Navy, Thom settled in Seattle, Washington for a few years, where he did graduate work at an art institute, managed a craft gallery where he was introduced to beads, and eventually started his own business as a landscape designer. This experience contributed to his passion for color, texture and form on a grand scale. From Seattle, Thom went to New York for three years, where he began working with stained glass, making both flat and three-dimensional pieces. He also taught glass art in the public school system as a visiting artist.

Thom returned to Santa Cruz, California in 1980 where he still lives. He continued to create stained glass pieces on a commission basis for a while. Concurrently, to feed his developing interest in less fragile types of sculpture, he returned to school to study welding, forging, silver smithing, and bronze casting. Settling on bronze as his primary medium, Thom soon began working on the "Warrior Suite." At the same time another powerful influence entered Thom's life: the "Men's Movement." Here he found his artistic voice and subject material - the many aspects of men's lives, the real core issues that lie beneath the layers of culture, society and politics.

In 2002, Thom was involved in a traffic accident, severely damaging his wrists and thumbs.  Since it was clear that pushing clay around was no longer an alternative, he decided to combine a love of beads started in Seattle, with fabric and explore them as a new medium of expression.  In time, surgery repaired the damage but the shift had been made and a whole new vista of fabric and beads had opened up.  “Bead Embellished Quilts”, less sculptural and more colorful, became the order of the day.  Finding the balance between beads and fabric, where each is integrated into the design and both are essential to the overall composition, has provided ample challenges for Thom’s active imagination.  He has come to a point where neither “Bead Embellished” nor “Quilt” seem accurate or applicable terms, yet he continues to use them for lack of more precise definitions of what he does.  After doing several shows, Thom admits that quilts with beads are a whole lot easier than bronze to pack and carry around. He still sometimes sees images that call out for materials other than fabric and beads, and his fingers still itch for the feel of clay, so itís likely that bronze and clay are not banished from the work area forever.