Internationally reknowned artist and staple of Murray, Kentucky's art community, Joy Thomas, will be honored this month in two retrospective exhibits at the Wrather West Kentucky museum and the Murray Art Guild gallery. Debi Henry Danielson, executive director of the Murray Art Guild, and widower of Joy, Fred Thomas, visit Sounds Good to discuss the upcoming exhibits and the woman behind the featured works.
"To describe Joy, I think the most single word would be inspirational," Fred Thomas said of his late wife, Joy Thomas. "As Shakespeare said, 'though she may be little, she be fierce.'" A member of the Murray Art Guild, a Kentucky colonel, and honorary member of the Australian Portrait Society, Joy was a celebrated and award-winning painter of portraits. Joy completed many portrait commissions for leaders of business, government, academia, and finance. Her official portrait of the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, was unveiled in 2001 and remains in the permanent collection of the Pentagon. She aso painted portraits of government officials such as the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard in 2006, Chief Federal Judge Thomas B. Russell in 2010, and Steven Beshear, Kentucky's 61st Governor, in 2012.
Joy began her artistic career as a Fine Arts student at Murray State University. She continued her training at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Art in Connecticut, The Loveland Academy of Fine Arts in Colorado, and the Fechin Institute of New Mexico. Joy also received merit scholarships from the Pastel Society of America and the Scottsdale Gallery Association to study at the Woodstock School of Art in New York and the Scottsdale Artists' School in Arizona.
In 1996, Joy was awarded the First Place Prize for Portrait Painting by the American Society of Portrait Artists. Two years later, she traveled to Sydney, Australia to accept the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian Society of Portrait Artists. Joy won first place in a 2000 competition for portrait artists sponsored by The Artists' Magazine, where her entry was chosen out of 13,800 contestants. She has been featured in numerous artistic publications around the world and has been the featured artist in several instructional DVDs. Joy authored the book, The Art of Portrait Drawing, in 2006.
Due to her father's job requiring the family to frequently relocate, Joy attended fourteen different schools throughout her childhood and adolescence. Her husband, Fred, credits her innate ability to teach and inspire others to the empathy she gained from moving so regularly. "It didn't matter if the person had no talent at all, and the possibility of them ever producing brilliant work was nil, she appreciated their efforts," Fred explains. "[Joy believed] if everyone would investigate it a little, and take an interest in it, we would all understand art more. She loved people who took an interest in art."
Debi Henry Danielson, executive director of the Murray Art Guild, also referenced Joy's tremendous generosity as a major component of her teaching ability. "Joy always did the best that she was, and she encouraged everyone around her to be the best that they are. She raised the bar, not just by being there, but [by] the way she encouraged people that they could also be that person."
Joy recently passed away in October of 2018, and both the local and international art communities remember her this month through two retrospective exhibits at the Wrather West Kentucky museum and the Murray Art Guild gallery in Murray, KY. The Wrather exhibit primarily showcases Joy's extensive portrait work and a number of drawing studies, which reveal the artistic process behind her incredible finished products. The Murray Art Guild will feature a more intimate look into Joy's lesser known collection of landscapes and still lifes.
The two exhibits open Saturday, January 12th. The opening receptions will take place the night of the 12th from 5 to 8 p.m. with music and light refreshments. Fred will say a few words about Joy at 6:30 p.m. at Wrather Museum. The Wrather exhibit will be on display until February 2nd, and is available to view during normal business hours (Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). The Murray Art Guild exhibit will be on display until February 1st, and can be viewed Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.