Jamieson Thomas defies description. Artist, athlete, adventuress and so much more. Only her art hints at the depth of this renaissance woman. Her downtown Orlando studio is filled with mixed-media treasures. Charcoal drawings, sketched from the charred remains of a Florida wildfire, hang beside a glistening 30-foot art installation that cascades beside ocean blue paintings. Photography, sculpture, water colors and pastels. Thomas’ artistic expressions are a feast for the senses.
“I never thought about being an artist, I always felt I was an artist,” she said. “It is who I am.”
But it is only one facet of this wonder woman.
Born in Boston, Thomas moved with her family to Miami when she was 5. She loved the water and excelled at sailing and body surfing.
At 16, Thomas won a gold medal for a drawing of her grandmother. It led to a chance to be mentored by a professional artist and also persuaded Thomas’ parents that their daughter was exceptionally talented.
The same year, Thomas got her pilot’s license and became an acrobatic pilot.
“My dad wanted to fly,” said Thomas, the second oldest of five children. “It gave me a chance to spend time with him.”
After high school, Thomas earned her bachelor’s degrees in fine art and business at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she was a founding member of the Skidmore rowing crew.
Following college, Thomas painted murals and helped create greeting cards. She married, and the couple had two sons. After the family moved to Dallas, she created a cultural literacy program that taught children to appreciate different cultures through art, music and cuisine. It won raves from educators and was adopted throughout the school system.
No slowing down
The Thomas family moved back to Florida where Thomas became the art director of the manufacturing company she and her husband bought.
At 40, Thomas climbed 14,400-foot Mount Rainier with her father and sons. She continued to draw and paint, while honing her skills at rowing.
By 56, she was at the top of her game. She won the U.S. Singles Sculling competition for her age group and won an award for being the fastest female rower in the U.S. Masters National Championships.
It seemed there was no stopping this super achiever with the flowing gray hair and infectious smile.
But just a few months after winning national acclaim as America’s fastest female rower, Thomas’ world came to an abrupt, painful halt. Near her Winter Park home, she was waiting for a red light to turn green when a driver, who was texting, violently rear-ended Thomas’ car, catapulting her into the car ahead. A witness estimated the texting driver was going over 50 mph when she struck Thomas.
“For a year, I woke up with serious aches and pain,” she said. “I couldn’t lift my arm, couldn’t lift my leg, couldn’t turn my head at all. The doctor said that people who have been in an accident like I was usually claim disability and never compete again. I shrugged my shoulders, and I said, ‘That’s not me.’”
And so, Thomas put the same grit and determination into her rehabilitation that she did into her training and art. As she gave her body time to heal, she decided to work on her master’s degree to nourish her recovery.
Thomas left Florida and attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Her instructors challenged Thomas to find new ways to expand her artistic vision. She branched out into other media and started incorporating her concern for the environment into her art.
One of Thomas’ most ambitious projects was knitting a 30-foot “blanket” out of discarded plastic found on the beach. She carved large, wooden needles to knit the pieces together.
“How can I tell a more impactful story?” she asked herself.
She worked with three ballerinas who danced under the glistening plastic to bring attention to the problem of plastic pollution in the environment.
“It was magical,” she said.
Thomas continues to find new challenges. She created a one-act play based on the real-life story of a great aunt who lived in Boston and Brooklyn and was a twice-institutionalized composer whose music has not been heard since the 1930s.
Thomas also is busy adding to her collection and exhibiting her works. It is as if the crash – as terrible as it was – unleashed new rivers of creativity. She is one of only 22 fine artists chosen through a juried process who work at McRae Art Studios in Orlando where she paints, sculpts, draws and exhibits her photography. The range of expression seems endless. She describes her collection as “the delicate intersection of humanity in natural environments.”
While her art is flourishing, so is Thomas’ body and spirit. The resilient athlete is back on the water rowing with the national masters in her sights.
“I plan to compete, even if I can’t win,” she said.
No one is counting her out. When it comes to living life to the fullest, Jamieson Thomas is already a winner.
To find out more and to view Thomas’ online gallery, go to www.jamiesonthomas.com.