Over the years, there have been many people who have influenced, inspired, and supported me as an artist. From family, friends, and teachers, to colleagues and art historical heroes, the list is long. But as I look out among the faces of these memories and influences, and I consider the aesthetic belief systems they’ve helped me construct, I realize that Thom Shaw stands out in sharp clarity and distinction. Somehow I have the feeling that Thom may have been that figure in the minds of a lot of people–not just artists–and no doubt, he will be for many years to come.
I met Thom Shaw in the summer of 2004. We worked together on the ‘Freedom Works’ Project through Artworks. Freedom Works was a blessed opportunity to work with not only Thom Shaw, but also the talents of Tim Rollins, Andrea Hill, and talented teens from the Greater Cincinnati area. Collectively, we made art work that was inspired by the concept of freedom and to also commemorate the opening of Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Anyone who is a printmaker in the Cincinnati area has heard of Thom Shaw. Thom’s relief printmaking is widely admired for both its technical beauty and the power of its content. I’d heard about Thom Shaw and his work for years, we had even crossed paths here and there in the printmaking world; but I didn’t get the chance to meet him and get to know him until that summer. Working with Thom for Freedom Works was one of the most rewarding collaborative experiences I’ve ever had. Thom challenged our notions of what freedom really means–a topic so rich and layered, that I find myself still investigating its true meaning today in my own work.
On July 6th, 2010 we lost a good man. We lost a great artist. The last time I had talked to Thom, in the late Spring, he seemed a little tired, and certainly mortality was on his mind. In January of this year, he had lost his wife, Jackie, and he was still in the thick of grieving and processing her death. And yet, I could still hear that spark in Thom’s voice . . . always full of ideas, he seemed to still have so much creative energy, so much that still was waiting to come out in a woodcut or painting.
When I last spoke to Thom, I was telling him about how I wanted to honor him with a portrait drawing at my upcoming solo show, “Our Beauty Flows Like Water”. I had chosen six Cincinnati artists to pay tribute to, and he was most definitely at the top of that list.
He will always be at the top of that list. Thank you, Thom, for letting your creativity, your exuberance, your wide range of interests be so infectious! Thank you for your boldness in storytelling and for the facility of your hands and eyes. I know now that you are in a place where you are surely discovering the truth about what freedom really means. And I can’t wait to hear your stories about it when I meet you there. God bless you.