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Laquita Thomson

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Laquita Thomson
(Corinth, Mississippi, 1947 - )

Laquita Thomson was born in Corinth, Mississippi on January 25, 1947(1) and was raised just north of Corinth in Acton, Tennessee. Because the community was small and isolated, Thomson had little access to art museums, art magazines, or other forms of exposure to art, but she displayed an interest in it from a very early age.(2) Until high school, Thomson's only real source of information on art history and techniques was the family encyclopedia, though her parents tried to provide her with opportunities to meet local artists and kept her supplied with paper, pencils, and crayons. In 1959, when Thomson was twelve, one of her drawings of a local beauty queen was chosen for publication in Tennessee Magazine. Soon thereafter, her parents encouraged her to try both oil and watercolor paints, but she continued to work primarily with pencils and pastels because she had trouble mixing the paints correctly.
Thomson continued to actively create art during high school and her works began to receive more public exposure. In 1963, her pastel portrait of Elizabeth Taylor won first prize in the adult painting division at the Alcorn County Fair, and in 1964, a pencil drawing of Lyndon Johnson was featured in Beta Club Magazine. As well, Thomson was commissioned to produce several pieces for community members such as carving a rabbit out of cedar, decorating a windowshade for a new house, and designing a sheet music cover. Thomson also created posters for her high school principal's office and several of her drawings were kept on display around the school. Despite this evidence and recognition of her talent, she was never encouraged to pursue art as a vocation.
Thomson graduated from high school in 1965 and began attending college at Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, Tennessee. She enrolled as an engineering student, but took art classes as electives to continue her art training. In the fall of 1966, she transferred to Mississippi State University. Though she tried to continue her engineering degree, Thomson became dissatisfied with her major and started to do poorly in her classes. On the recommendation of a friend, in January of 1968 she transferred to Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus, Mississippi to study art. During her junior and senior years, she won prizes at the Mississippi Arts Festival in Jackson, Mississippi and in 1969 she was selected to design and execute a certificate for the Governor of Mississippi when he visited Columbus.
Thomson received her BFA in Painting and Printmaking from Mississippi State College for Women in 1970. After graduation, she and her college roommate went on a two month trip to Europe to visit museums and see firsthand the European art they had studied in college. In retrospect, Thomson has commented that this trip was fundamental to her understanding of traditional art history and gave her a context in which to understand American art.(3) After returning to the United States, Thomson began teaching ninth-grade high-school English. In 1971, she married Hugh Thomson, an Australian tennis player she had met at Mississippi State University. Soon thereafter, the couple moved to Birmingham and Thomson entered the Master's program in secondary education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She graduated with her MA in Education in 1974. While in school, Thomson worked as a docent at the Birmingham Museum of Art, served on their Museum Art Education Board, and took weekly painting classes from artists such as Max Heldman, Doyle Fellows, Billy Wilson, and Dot Jones. Thomson also designed costumes for the Birmingham Civic Ballet's 1971/1972 season.
In 1975, Thomson and her husband left Birmingham on an extended trip to Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific. Thomson spent much of the trip visiting museums, sketching, and writing poetry, and while in London, researched the artist, William Morris. The Thomsons arrived in Australia in early 1976 for an extended visit to Hugh Thomson's family. Laquita Thomson began using her mother-in-law's detached garage for a studio and painted daily. She became a member, and eventually teacher, of a local art group and converted them to plein air landscape painting. She also gave them lessons in Australian art history.
In 1977, Thomson and her husband returned to the United States and settled in Florida. After a year, they moved back to Birmingham where they lived until 1981. Thomson enrolled as a special student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and took classes in printmaking and photography. She also became involved with the Birmingham Art Association. It was during this time that Thomson decided to use her art to pursue "a celebratory exploration of things Southern"(4) and also to explore her own Southern roots. As well, she decided to address and question the causes of her outsider status in the art world which she believed arose from being both a woman, and a realist, rather than an abstract, artist. Thomson's decision to explore Southern culture also served as the impetus for a research project on Southern art history which she began at this time.
Thomson's professional career began to accelerate in the early 1980s. Her first one-person show, titled One Southerner's View was held at the public library in Corinth, Mississippi in 1980, and her second one-person show, Sets and Series, was held the same year at the University Gallery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 1982, the Thomsons moved to Auburn where Laquita Thomson began preparations for a one-person show at Mississippi State College for Women. Also that year, Thomson joined Studio 218, a group of professionally trained women artists. Around 1985, Thomson began signing up for art courses at Auburn University. During this period, Thomson also began to actively exhibit in juried shows, entering several each year. The first important review of Thomson's work appeared in Art Papers in July, 1987. In addition to her coursework and art exhibitions, Thomson continued to study and produce art in a variety of ways. During the mid 1980s, Thomson's poetry began to be published regularly in university and other small magazines. In 1985, she designed a children's work station for Rubbermaid and Family Circle magazine for which she won a prize. In 1986, Thomson was awarded a residency to study rural landscape at Hambidge Center in Georgia, and in the summer of 1987 she participated in an art camp at Lake Michigan with a group from the Art Institute of Chicago.
In the late 1980s, Auburn University decided to revive its MFA program. They asked Thomson to be one of their first students and she happily agreed, deciding to pursue in depth her interest in the study of Southern culture. Though Thomson and her husband moved to Huntsville in 1990, Thomson returned to Auburn to complete her MFA degree in painting and printmaking in 1991. During her years as a student at Auburn, Thomson received several honors including the National Liquitex Materials Award and an award as Outstanding Graduate Student in the Humanities. In 1992, she was named one of Auburn University's Outstanding Women Graduates.
Soon after completing her MFA at Auburn, Thomson decided to enroll at the University of Alabama in Huntsville to work on her Alabama art history project. Since the school had no art history department, she enrolled in the history department's MA program. Thomson took classes part-time in order to continue working on printmaking and computer related artworks. The 1995 show "Through the Dogtrot, Kudzu Cards and Other Southern Games: Prints" at the University Center Gallery in Huntsville showcased many of the works produced during this period. Thomson is currently continuing her MA project for the University of Alabama/Huntsville.
Late in 1995, the Thomsons moved to Atlanta. Currently, Thomson is trying to establish a place in the active Atlanta art community and has been concentrating on her wood engravings and poetry. She has joined the Atlanta Artist's Club and Women in Focus, a photography-based group. She also continues to execute small commissions such as the masks she recently designed for a local dancer.
Thomson's work has appeared in a variety of one-man and group shows since 1982, mostly at small museums and college galleries in Alabama, but also at the 1994 American Pen Women 37th Biennial National Art Exhibit at Lincoln Center in New York. Her shows have received regular review in the Birmingham News, Birmingham Post-Herald, andWomen Artists News since 1985. Her work has only recently begun to be acquired by regional museums. She is currently represented by Maralyn Wilson Gallery in Birmingham.
Thomson is a multi-faceted artist who works in a bewildering variety of media as well as writing poetry and pursuing scholarly research in Southern history and art history.(5) Thomson has said "In general, I see myself simply as a creative individual who does not specialize in any one medium or form of expression. I have drawn in all media, painted in oils, acrylics, alkyds, watercolors, pastels, egg tempera and many variations and combinations of these. I do relief, intaglio, lithography, serigraphy, collographs and monotypes in many variants. I do some sculpture, make books and do installations. And while I am certainly a visual artist first and foremost, I feel strongly about my art history work as well as my poetry. I see it all as flowing from the same well."(6) Though some have criticized Thomson's work for being stylistically inconsistent, in a recent essay Susi Colin has suggested that Thomson's lack of a definitive style "expresses the innate inner conflict in Southern culture "and sees it as "a conscious challenge to the traditional concept of artistic integrity".(7) It is also arguable that the consistency of Thomson's symbolism, coupled with a subtle but nagging sense of distortion (of color, of mood, of form) present in much of her work, unite her oeuvre despite variations in style and media. Thomson reuses a consistent set of images throughout her works, notably Southern landscape motifs, objects which suggest events in Southern history, snakes, UFOs, and Biblical references. And despite her self-characterization as a realist, much of her work hovers on the edge of unreality and fantasy through the use of heightened and often artificial colors, layering, blurred outlines, and fantastic juxtapositions of objects.
Thomson has said that her art is predominantly influenced by elements she thinks are embodied in the South, "...dichotomies of goodness and evil, freedom and enslavement, the sublime and the banal".(8) Some of her earliest and most continuous influences have come from Southern "popular art" such as church paintings, signs, yard decorations, and even storytelling imagery. In her desire to explore and embody the culture of the South, she has investigated and tried to incorporate all of its imagery whether natural, written, spoken, drawn, or painted.

(1)Biographical information was predominantly compiled from the artist's vitae, phone conversations with the artist, and an autobiographical personal narrative on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. For a critical review by the artist of her work before 1991 see Reality and Spirit in Beulah Land, a critical essay prepared for AT 697, Auburn University, 1991, manuscript in possession of the author and on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. For critical reviews of Thomson's exhibitions see Susi Colin, "Laquita Thomson", Art Papers, July/August 1987, Vol. 11(4), p. 64; Susan Braden, "Laquita Thomson: Reality and Spirit in Beulah Land", Art Papers, January-February 1992, p. 47;Art Views, Huntsville Museum of Art, September/October 1995; Peter J. Baldaia, "Confronting Dixie: Recent Prints by Laquita Thomson", Encounters: Laquita Thomson, brochure of an exhibition at the Huntsville Museum of Art, October-November, 1995 (2)Thomson has said that she started drawing when she was 3 years old (Autobiographical personal narrative by the artist, on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, p. 1) (3)Autobiographical personal narrative by the artist, on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, p. 8 (4)Autobiographical personal narrative by the artist, on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, p. 12 (5)A biography of the artist Maltby Sykes by Laquita Thomson is on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (6)Autobiographical personal narrative by the artist, on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, p. 16 (7)Susi Colin, "Laquita Thomson", Art Papers, July/August 1987, Vol. 11(4), p. 64 (8)Peter J. Baldaia, "Confronting Dixie: Recent Prints by Laquita Thomson", Encounters: Laquita Thomson, brochure of an exhibition at the Huntsville Museum of Art, October-November, 1995
M. Bullock 8/13/97

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