|Tom Williams plays a tune on one of the Native American flutes he has collected over the years. The painter, who was recently awarded a commission for a Park City art project, is one of the mainstays of the art community in the Carbon County area.|
Not many years ago, it may have been difficult to imagine Tom Williams' painting be ing placed in buildings across America. He was, at the time, a coal miner in the Des Bee Dove Mine in Emery County and the West Virginia native thought that would be his life's work.
Then a coal mining mishap injured him and through a retraining program, he found all those years of doing hard labor translated into something else; beauty on canvas. Since then his paintings have sold and sold, so much so that his work is often gone before it is off the easel it is being created upon.
While still probably not at the peak of his art career, Williams found out in March that he has certainly reached at least one high point. A panel set up to decide on the art to decorate the new Park City Public Safety building selected him to do a number of large panels that will hang in the reception area of the structure which opened Dec. 1, 2007.
"It was a thrill to be selected for the job, particularly when you consider how many artists were in contention for the commission," said Williams as he stood among his and David Johnson's paintings in their BoxCar Gallery in Helper last Thursday morning. "They started out with dozens of artists to pick from in January, then moved that number down to 10 in February, got it to three at the first of March and by the end of the month they told me I had the commission."
Thomas' rendition of working people, in mining and industrial settings, that he has painted over the years fits right into the ideas the Park City group had for the new building.
"We were very impressed with what he has done and how he has portrayed miners and others in working settings," said Park City Police Chief Lloyd Evans on Friday afternoon. "He will give us what we need for this building."
A setting for high rollers and the rich today, Park City's beginnings were in the mining industry, not a far stretch from what Thomas has been painting for years in the Carbon County area. While coal mining and hard rock mining are very different in technique, the people who do it face many of the same challenges and their lives also take similar turns. And while the the Park City commission is not all about mining, it is about the history of that once blue collar town.
"I promised them that I would push the envelope of my talent so that people who come into that reception area would stand speechless in the lobby as they were waiting. And rather than just see the paintings, I want them to feel them, not just see them," said Williams.
The project is a large one with two upper walls to be filled by huge canvases that will portray Park City's past. Thomas will create what he terms "triptychs." Three panels will be upright (5 feet by 12 feet) while three horizontal panels will hang below them (3 feet by 21 feet). Williams has already created two paintings that hang in the administrative offices and conference room area of the building.
"As I presented the concepts for these panels earlier this week the people on the commission seemed to like what I have developed," said Thomas. "The only thing they added was that they would like to see more women, children and dogs in the paintings."
|Park City Police Chief Lloyd Evans, a fourth generation peace officer, stands by one of the paintings Tom Williams has already done for the new public safety building. Evans said Williams was the perfect person to paint the murals for the lobby area of the building which opened in December of 2007.|
Since the paintings will hang in the public safety building, some of the emphasis of the art will be on local law enforcement and its history in the town. Evans, who plans on retiring the end of June from the police force there, knows about that history, because his family has been involved in the police business in Park City for four generations.
"My great-great-grandfather was the town's justice of the peace, and since then the family has been heavily involved in law enforcement in Park City," he said.
Evans influence on the concepts Thomas has created shows when they are viewed as a group. Police officers appear in many of the paintings, but the concept drawings also portray miners, town life, the towns band and other groups throughout the years.
The commission to create the works also means something more important to Williams than just notoriety and income. It means for the first time in years, he will be able to stay in Carbon County for most of the summer.
"We are always doing shows out of town and many of those come in the summer," he said. "This year I will only do one show in Colorado because we are already committed to it. But the rest of the summer I will be working hard to finish these so they can be unveiled at the dedication on Sept. 1."
This past winter he created 50 paintings while in the Palm Springs, Calif. area. Those paintings all sold in galleries there and he said that all he has left of any of his art is in the studio right now.
Williams said he will be at the studio working on the new panels for Park City all summer and invited anyone who wants to see the creation process taking place to come in and see him at 41 South Main in Helper.
Williams jokingly cautioned those who might visit the studio though.
"In the past when we have been here painting people come through from the Wasatch Front and other areas while on vacation and want to see our work," he said. "More than once people have looked around, bought a painting and then say 'You just took our vacation money.' So be careful when you come here."
While the Park City commission was a proud moment for him, he says the favorite painting he has created in years was of a miner riding his mules down off a mountain.
"That painting portrays a local miner doing what he loves in his time off the job," stated Williams with a few tears in his eyes. "I painted that image from a photo that was taken of him. That photo was taken by one of his good friends, one of the men who lost their life in Crandall Canyon last summer."
He says Helper is where he wants to be as much as he can be.
"My main passion is the people of Carbon and Emery counties," he said. "While these paintings are being done for another towns buildings, my heart is always here and I'm really happy I will be able to be around here so much this summer."