FLORENCE YOUNG THOMAS
A Life in Art
1909 – 2007
Born in Ashe County in 1909, Florence Thomas grew up in a world vastly different from today. With no electricity, limited roads, and transportation options limited to walking or horses, life was challenging to imagine. Small communities with their own church, country store, and school were vital. In 1933, the county had 80 schools, with more than half having only one teacher. Today, there are only five schools remaining. Florence’s parents, who earned a living from the land, prioritized education for their eight children. They moved from Horse Creek to Creston and eventually settled in Grassy Creek, always seeking better schools. It was in high school that Florence first discovered her passion for painting. She and a classmate created copies of paintings on scraps of canvas, selling them for two dollars each. Despite the obstacles she faced, Florence pursued her passion throughout her life.
In 1928, Florence received a scholarship after completing a year of teacher training in Crossnore, NC. This opportunity allowed her to fulfill her dream of studying art at the Morris School of Design for Women in Philadelphia. However, her formal studies came to an abrupt end after 18 months due to a sudden illness, forcing her to return home. Later that year, she married Paul Thomas and embraced life as a farm wife and mother.
Despite the setback, Florence seized every opportunity to continue her art education, attending workshops and classes across various locations from Florida to Maine. Her time studying with Carolyn Wyeth was particularly valuable and cherished. For twenty years, she conducted painting classes in her basement, sharing her knowledge and touching the lives of numerous individuals. Grandmothers who had long dreamed of painting finally found joy in their art. Upon retiring in 1976, Florence played a crucial role in establishing the Blue Ridge Art Clan, a platform that continues to bring in teachers and speakers, serving as a testament to her influence and dedication.
Florence’s artwork depicted the scenes of her surroundings. Her distinctive style focused on softness and light, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in uncluttered scenes devoid of excessive detail. Whether it was landscapes, portraits, or enchanting renditions of animals, Florence captured the essence and spirit of her subjects with simplicity and elegant flair. She believed in leaving out excessive detail, allowing the viewer to engage with the painting. While she drew inspiration from Cezanne and Van Gogh, Florence ultimately forged her own artistic path, creating an extraordinary chronicle of the Appalachian mountains. Her art has been showcased in major exhibitions across the eastern United States and was prominently featured in the prestigious traveling exhibition sponsored by the Grace Pickett Studio Guild of Connecticut.
Florence peacefully passed away at her home on March 30, 2007, at the age of 98. Her legacy lives on through the non-profit art school she established. In 2008, the school fulfilled Florence’s dream by conducting its first workshops. With ongoing growth and support, her spirit and teachings will continue to inspire future generations of students. Today, the Art School offers a diverse range of classes and exhibits in its downtown West Jefferson gallery, leaving behind a lasting testament to Florence’s life in art.