Muralist paints the townPosted: Tuesday, Feb 24th, 2009
“All of the training I had has come in handy, especially showing up for work, whether or not it’s raining,” Thomae said.
That’s because Thomae paints murals and does his work outdoors. And whether it’s sunny and warm, or cold and damp, Thomae keeps busy. The Aptos artist has murals in San Jose, Gilroy, Santa Cruz, Aptos, Salinas and, of course, Watsonville. On Thursday, he was working in the bright sun on the corner of East Lake Avenue and Union Street, painting red berries on his latest piece, a mural of a Berry Bowl fruit label.
As he climbed down from his scaffolding, white, curly hair poked out from underneath his sun hat, which shaded his brown face, white mustache and warm smile. Paints of every color speckled his hands as he used them to talk about his love of art and life.
Not really knowing what he wanted to do for a career,
Thomae finished his stint in the military in 1969. He was trained in electronics, but didn’t enjoy it.
“I fell in with the wrong group when I got out of the Marines … artists, and I started painting,” he said.
Thomae, who first moved to Santa Cruz County in 1972, said he wandered around between the Bay Area, Mexico and Colorado before finally settling in Aptos. During that time he painted signs, mostly, and as he took art classes at community colleges, he gradually became more skilled and began painting murals.
Currently, his work can be seen at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Aptos/La Selva Beach Fire Station No. 3 and on the Exquisite Designs building on Walker and Beach streets in Watsonville, among many other locations.
Thomae’s most recent mural, a Franich apple box label that adorns Golden State Auto Repair on Union Street, sparked an entire city program to put more murals of fruit-box labels throughout town.
“The people are wonderful in Watsonville. They seem to appreciate outdoor art and bright colors more than most places,” Thomae said.
Gabriel Lopez, the owner of the auto shop, commissioned the mural as a “thank you” to the Franich family, whom he said helped him as a youth. Thomae had a car in Lopez’s shop, and the two made a deal.
“It grabs everybody’s attention,” Lopez said. “He’s really good.”
Thomae was commissioned by the city to paint the Berry Bowl mural as part of the fruit label program. The rest of the murals have been divided among other local artists.
“It’s a good thing more and other artists will be painting these murals,” Thomae said. “It gives us all a little exposure to show our work.”
Thomae said he has been influenced through the years by the artists who have grabbed his attention the most, such as muralist Thomas Hart Benton, who painted many Depression-era murals in the United States, and Humboldt County muralist Duane Flatmo.
“There’s a lot of people who are very, very good,” Thomae said. “You study their work to improve your own.”
And his inspiration is his wife and children.
“I owe everything to my wife and kids. They taught me patience,” he said.
Next for Thomae is a mural that will adorn the Pump’d business at 555 Main St. He will not yet be finished with other projects when he starts that one. The 62-year-old keeps himself busy by constantly painting —he can’t even guess how many hours a week he spends at it.
“I keep pretty busy — it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on,” he said.
*Photos by Tarmo Hannula*
(Published in 2/24/09 edition)
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