When artist John Thamm was in first grade at Opportunity Grade School, he often found himself gazing out the window, especially when a train went by.
It was during World War II, and Jeeps, tanks and other mechanical elements of war were moved across the country on the trains that lumbered past Thamm’s classroom window. During that time, Thamm swiped a box of chalk from his classroom and proceeded to draw his observations.
“I left a trail of pictures on the street from my school to my house,” he said. School officials followed the trail and knocked on his door. “They didn’t come right out and accuse me. They suggested that I might know where the chalk was. I handed over what was left of it. I think that set the stage for my political and social art.”
Thamm went on to earn a master of fine arts from the University of Idaho. He also took extended learning classes, including studying portraiture at the Art Students League in New York City. He also taught art, first through Bob Ross Inc., then through Farbiflora. Thamm also worked as a courtroom sketch artist for local media as well as CNN, ABC and the Associated Press, covering such cases as Ruby Ridge, the Branch Davidian siege at Waco, Texas, and the Aryan Nations in Coeur d’Alene.
Thamm, 75, has maintained his childlike curiosity, depicting things related to the elements of war, politics and religion. As he expressed his thoughts on the “mechanical elements of destruction” that he saw passing through his town as a child, he continues to comment without filters, expressing everything from outrage to sorrow over current and not-so-current affairs. He said this type of powerful and thought-provoking art brings out the Thor in him while his lovely landscapes bring out the Henry David Thoreau; a master of his craft, he sometimes grips a brush like Thor’s hammer and sometimes holds it delicately like Thoreau’s quill dipped in ink.
A few years ago, Thamm set up an easel at the Spokane VA Medical Center and began painting portraits of veterans. The portraits led to stories that led to a book called “Vets: 50 Portraits of Veterans and Their Stories.” Published by Gray Dog Press, the book was a collaboration with Tom Davis and includes recollections from veterans from WWII to Iraq.
On Friday and Saturday, Thamm will be opening his Peaceful Valley studio, Shotgun Studio, to the public. The exhibition called “Small Works of Art Show” will include paintings by Thamm as well as E.L. Stewart, Darrell Sullens, T.C. Quinn, Natalie Stewart-Utley and Jared C. Anderson. On Sunday at 3 p.m., Tom Davis will read from his newest book of poetry, “Soldier of the Afterlife,” and sign copies.
At Shotgun Studio, models occasionally pose for contemporary portraits, and museum-quality work adorns the walls. Wandering through, it is not hard to imagine Thor and Thoreau deep in conversation, discussing everything from political unrest to a long walk along the Spokane River.