2009 Carroll Thomas article in Scenic 395


Big Pine California Celebrates Artist Carroll Thomas’ Big Birthday
Carroll’s 99th Birthday is Truly Reason for Everyone to Celebrate
Story & Photos by Barbara L. Steinberg©

We first had the great pleasure of meeting Carroll Thomas as he celebrated the opening of his Big Pine gallery on Hwy. 395. There was much to celebrate as Carroll had just blown-out the candles (figuratively speaking) on his 96th birthday. Our wide-eyed response to both of these amazing feats, “No! Way!” He was the spriest 96-year-old we had ever met. And I’m thinking, “C’mon now. You can’t be a day over 80.” (Photo of Carroll at 96, April 2006.)

What incredible luck. Enjoying our favorite road trip along the Eastern Sierra…and spending time basking in the artistic glow of a true California treasure in the form of Carroll Thomas.

The time to celebrate and honor this California classic really is now. I recently spoke to Carroll’s partner of 30+ years. She said he has had a few health issues this past year, but still paints almost every day. Mr. Thomas is the oldest living American Painter, still creating works of art, while personally operating and maintaining his own gallery located in Big Pine, California. Another double whopper. Seems appropriate that he should be living and working along side the oldest living things on Earth…the ancient bristlecone pines. We are so blessed in California to have to many of the oldest, tallest, onliest, largest things on the planet. This, of course includes Carroll Thomas.

Carroll has been painting landscapes and wildlife most of his life…well, at least 90 years! The first painting he ever created still hangs in his studio in Big Pine, California. He attended the School of Fine Arts in Minneapolis, MN in 1928. But times were hard — that pesky old Depression — and, in his late teens/early 20s, he hopped a freight train from Colorado to find work in California. He lived in the mountains with a friend where they hunted and fished to feed themselves. (Carroll’s first painting hanging on the wall of his studio.)

His first gallery – which he opened in 1978 — was near Lake Tahoe. This lasted a few years before he began traveling and searching for a place to really “settle down.” That place was Big Pine. Carroll had been traveling his whole life — painting the beautiful landscapes and wildlife images that hang in the gallery today.

His works evolved from watercolors to oils. Personally, I prefer the soft liquid feeling of the watercolors. But oil painting was more practical, Carroll explained to me. Oils or watercolors, there is strength in his paintings and a clear love for nature and wild places.

Last year, we specifically journeyed down this favorite stretch of Hwy. 395 to deliver belated birthday greetings to Carroll at 98 years old. Carroll, along with family and friends, will gather to mark his 99th birthday April 25, 2009…though the actual date is the 29th. I live 300 miles away and gave serious consideration to attending this auspicious occasion. However, I will have to settle on being with him in spirit, on both days. (Photo of Carroll & Barbara 2008)

Next year, come Hell or high water, I will be there to watch Carroll blow out the candles on his centennial birthday. Plan ahead and get your name on the invite list!

For more information while You’re Visiting the Eastern Sierra: The Other Side of the California, Mammoth Lakes Vistiros Bureau, Mono County Tourism, Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, and Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau.