Mary ‘Tommy’ Thomas
December 30, 1920 – November 21, 2016
Mary ‘Tommy’ Thomas died at home after a long illness at the age 96. She was a celebrated artist and an ardent NFWFWF supporter, garnering the 2015 Founders Award. Tales of her base-running prowess at Crones games have become legend.
Tommy, the artist, survives in her amazing wood constructions, shown first at her 1982 debut in a 57th street gallery. “An outright winner,” as reviewed in The New York Times by John Russell. Like her many collectors, the critic saw the “wit” of our wildly changing times in Thomas’ lonely barns, rundown churches, funky diners, city high rises painted silver.
Unpredictable in art as in person, Tommy cheerfully admitted changing colors, whatever her subject – never literal, always an essence. But her style was “up” “happy” “a turn on”. Shows sold to instant collectors from New York to Key West, by way of Bridgehampton, Darien, the North Fork – and back, for her most recent return show in Soho. Still not shown: a massive display of figures using new material, featuring feminism. A break-through.
A New Yorker in spirit, Tommy was an old fashioned New Englander in speech – thus a standout as the esteemed Editor of the US Camera Annual in the first half of her professional life.
‘Tommy’ to everyone, she was also an overnight standout in looks. In her own vernacular this meant “madly attractive — not beautiful”, like her adored mother, Catherine Casey. Divorced early, Tommy’s father Thomas Tewe, faded from family life in memory.
Tommy was raised with her cousins by a magically maternal aunt, sister to Tommy’s glamorous mother whom Tommy visited on glamorous weekends in New York. Voted a cheerleader at her small town Saugus, Massachusetts high school, she became ‘madly popular.’ And remained so, until her 90th birthday party for her ’99 most intimate friends.’
Then suddenly, there was a black and white sketch of the 59th street bridge from her hospital window. Next, a perfect collage was painfully put together for writer Ellen Violett, Tommy’s bereft surviving partner of 45 years, at home or abroad. Both were helped by the amazing grace of their aides, plus gatherings of family members sharing their tantes’ vigil, as a memorial is planned.
Tommy Thomas invented herself and spoke for herself. ‘Being an artist is to me like continuing life in a most positive way…’ She fought to continue. Even her fight was beautiful. And missed — deeply.