[First posted Feb 22, 2006; last revised March 8, 2006]
Norman Millet Thomas, the painter of the Norbert Čapek mural, was born in 1915 and grew up in Portland, Maine. He graduated from Portland High School in 1933, and studied at the Portland School of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design in New York City, and the American Academy in Rome, Italy. In 1938 he was awarded a Pulitzer traveling scholarship of $1,500, for a mural of lobster fisherman on the back shore of Long Island (Maine).
Thomas served as a combat artist for the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. Several of his paintings of action in Greenland were published in Life magazine. (He had to repaint them after the originals were lost at sea.) He sketched the amphibious assaults at Leyte, Luzon, and Iwo Jima. One of his Luzon sketches, of two Coast Guardsmen, supporting between them a wounded soldier, became the design for the Coast Guard War Memorial bronze statue at Battery Park in New York City, sculpted by Thomas. The design was a matter of some controversy at the time: it was approved by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, but not by the city's Art Commission. The design, casting, and installation of the memorial were funded by small donations from throughout the Coast Guard. The memorial was dedicated in 1955, and a replica was dedicated in Baltimore in 1959.
Thomas's later years were spent mostly in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He was a producer of the 1961 film "El Brazo Fuerte" by Giovanni Korporaal (banned in Mexico because it criticized government corruption). From about 1965 to 1970 he was in Los Gatos, California, and became part of the group of artists who gathered at the nearby Studio 88 in Campbell. In the 1970s he was staying in San Jose. He died at Cuernavaca May 11, 1986 at the age of 70. His ashes were scattered over Casco Bay, Maine.
Partial transcription of article from Portland Press-Herald, May 3, 1938.
"Greenland At War," Life 15:76-78 (September 6, 1943). Drawings by Ben Wolf, including portrait of Norman Millet Thomas; and five paintings by Thomas, in color.
Press release, Dec.8, 1945, by Department of Parks, City of New York, and Public Information Office, U.S. Coast Guard.
Emily Genauer, "This week in Art: Coast Guard War Memorial Has Good ground to Stand On," New York World-Telegram, Sept. 21, 1946. Includes photo of Thomas with statue.
clipping from New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 7(? -byline dates Feb.6), 1947, photo of completed clay model for the World War II Memorial, with N.M. Thomas standing in front.
Lt. Cmdr. R.F. Barber, "U.S. Coast Guard World War II Memorial," U.S. Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association Bulletin, April 1950, p.3-6.
U.S. Coast Guard War Memorial Dedication Program, May 30, 1955.
U.S.Coast Guard official photo, Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay, Baltimore, MD. (May 29,1959
Obituary, Portland Press Herald, May 12, 1986, p.33.
Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975, ed.-in-chief Peter H. Falk. (1999)
AskArt, "Norman Thomas," http://www.askart.com/askart/t/norman_thomas/norman_thomas.aspx. Has image of Thomas oil "Bullfight." Click on "Discussion board" for Paul Greenesmith's recollections of Thomas at Los Gatos, and a note from Ramona Ray, who with her father had Thomas as a lodger in San Jose in the 1970s.
"German Weather Station Personel taken as Prisoner of War in Northeast Greenland," http://home6.inet.tele.dk/ron/greenland/Germanpow.htm, Includes image of Norman Thomas drawing of capture of Rudolf Senssem Hansa Bay, Sabine Island (July 1943).
"Combat Art of World War II," http://history.acusd.edu/gen/st/~pkaplan/index.html. (Univ.of San Diego) Includes Thomas painting of Coast Guard commando raid in Greenland, http://history.acusd.edu/gen/st/~pkaplan/thomas1.jpg
New York Times Movies, "El Brazo Fuerte," http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=229103
Personal communications from Paul Greenesmith and Ramona Ray.
[Research for this page was performed by members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County. Assistance was provided by personnel of the Maine College of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the Rutgers University Art Library, and the U.S. Coast Guard.]