File this under, “It’s a small world after all.”
Dori Littell-Herrick, professor emerita in the Animation program, recently returned from a vacation in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Upon her return, the veterinarian who had been boarding her cat shared that her great uncle, Bernard P. Thomas, was an artist who made his name painting scenes of Yellowstone and environs. Turns out that great uncle Bernard had earned a Bachelor of Science in Art from Woodbury in 1942. The vet shared a booklet from the Sheridan County Museum in Sheridan, Wyoming that houses some of his art.
As chronicled in “Fine Art America,” Bernard Preston Thomas, a Sheridan native, was “a realist and painter of the life of the West.” No distant observer, Bernard experienced the West viscerally: born to homesteaders, he attended a one-room schoolhouse, became an all-state football player in high school, and regarded famed cowboy artist Bill Gollings, a neighbor, as his muse.
“Fine Art America” quotes Bernard in that vein: “Some of my happiest years… were also the ones most beneficial to my artwork. I slept on the ground alongside the outfit’s top hands. I heard their stories of wilder days, and I’m the one who believes the artist who has lived ‘it’ is the one who can put the right feel in his work. Nothing gripes me more than a Western illustration done by an Eastern illustrator who doesn’t know straight up about the West.”
Upon finishing Woodbury, he served as a sergeant in the Third Army Division in World War II. Through the good offices of General Patton, he made his way to the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, where he learned mural painting – a skill he applied to a number of monumental works, most notably the 10-foot x 200-foot cyclorama in Rapid City’s South Dakota Fine Arts Center. He followed that with an 80-foot Western mural in a Rapid City bank and the “Autorama,” in Florida, which was considered at the time to be the largest 3D mural painted by a single artist. He was a member of the National Society of Mural Painters, was profiled in Ainsworth’s “The Cowboy in Art” and Hassrick’s “Western Painting Today,” and a number of his illustrations were published by “Western Horseman Magazine.”
To bring Littell-Herrick’s story full circle, the Sheridan County Museum booklet includes a photo of Bernard starring in a local play alongside popular sci-fi actor and Woodbury alumnus Richard Denning, who appeared in Creature from the Black Lagoon, the original Hawaii Five-O and An Affair to Remember, among his literally dozens of other credits.
(Top image titled “Cowboy’s Work Early)