Thomas F Gross

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Thomas F. Gross


     When someone asks me how long I have been an artist, I think I can say for my entire life. When I was about 7 years old, I can distinctly remember my father bringing modeling clay home for me. I would make clay dinosaurs. Now this was 1959 and dinosaurs were relatively unknown and did not become popular with the kids until the 1980's. I would draw for hours on end prehistoric Ice age people battling giant cave bears, and woolly mammoths. I was fascinated by these enormous creatures and the world they lived in. Again my father was largely responsible. He had worked as a civilian engineer on the Alaskan Highway in 1942 and during my early child hood he was stationed in Iceland, Greenland, and again Alaska. When he returned home he would always bring a duffel bag full of treasures from the far north.  

      When I was about 10 years old I loved to take my B.B. Gun and roam the woods, and fields and marshes around our home. Winter was a lot of fun back then. We had some really big snow years, and it was especially fun to walk across the hard crusted snow in the open fields. I was out on just such a day and I remember approaching the woods and hearing a lot of commotion. There was a large group of crows harassing a great horned owl. The owl was perched in a big oak tree, seemingly unconcerned with the raucous band of scolding crows in the surrounding trees. I will always remember that noble looking owl with his piercing eyes as he blinked once, turned his head and glided through the oaks with the crows in pursuit. I took a few shots at the crows and tried to keep up with them, but the snow was too deep in the woods. I could still hear them in the distance as I began to hunt for squirrels. 

       When I got into my early teens I began to hunt with my father. He would bring the most interesting snacks. Pickled pig’s feet or maybe smoked fish and cheese. A thermos of coffee and we were good to go. These are great memories and were very influential in my development as an artist.

       I completed my first painting in 1969 the same year my father passed away. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 59, and I was just 17. I was crushed. He meant so much to me. He had given me a compass as a child and now it was as if I had lost it. I was swept away by the whole 60's drug and music scene. I did not attend my graduation ceremony rather I threw my class ring on the school roof and set out on a hitch hiking trip with my best friend out to New York City. I basically threw away a few years of my life. I was angry. I wanted to go to Alaska with him. I wanted to experience true wilderness adventure with him.

             I wandered far away from my roots and love for the wilderness. I began to paint science fiction/fantasy art. This was a reflection of the world I now lived in. I now wanted to become a cover artist for paper back science fiction novels. I corresponded with all the major publishers in New York City. I made appointments and brought examples of my work out to them. I visited Bantam books, Dell and Ballantine. I received a lot of encouragement but they wanted me to move out to New York. I didn't go. I knew something was wrong and I knew somehow that if it were not for my drug use I would not be painting science fiction/fantasy art. Also in the back of my mind, I felt guilt about the fact that I was wasting my talent on something that would be completely foreign to my father. Thank God nothing ever came of this, I believe really deep down inside I did not want to paint science fiction/fantasy art. I also believe that God had better plans for me. This period of my life lasted about 7 years.

      By 1978 I was completely free from drugs. In 1979 I was married and we had a son in 1980.I was working in St. Paul as a custodian at the time. I was now painting wildlife art. It felt so good to have a clear conscience, and to paint something as natural as wildlife. I knew my father would be proud. I was determined to make up for those lost years, and I used my past failures as a driving force to realize my potential and paint wildlife professionally. 

       I entered the Minnesota Migratory Waterfowl Stamp competition for the first time in 1983. I finished in the finals in a tie for 6th place out of 202 entries. The following year I entered again, and my painting of wood ducks was selected for the 1984 stamp. This was truly a dream that became a reality for me. I was able to move my wife and three year old son out of the little apartment we were living in and into a house. I gave my two week notice at work and began painting and selling my work full time. I did this for 11 years.

        After my wife’s tragic death and the down turn in the wildlife art market, I did not pick up a paint brush for 8 years. I could no longer pay the bills. I had to scramble to get a job. Any job! I was a telemarketer. I was a traveling seafood salesman. In 1995 I got a job working a rotating shift in a noise factory. Needless to say painting was impossible. I worked there for 21/2 years. I used the experience I gained there to land a much better first shift job at a slightly less noisy factory from 1997-2002.

       I remarried in 1999 to my wife Ellen who works as a nurse at a Senior Living facility. She was helpful in my becoming employed there as of all things a custodian.... again! I had come full circle. Rags to riches to rags again you might say. It was also Ellen who talked me into giving painting another try. In November of 2002 I began painting for the Minnesota stamp contest and then one for the Federal. They did not place but I was pleased they turned out well. My wife wanted me to paint a black bear for her, and I completed Daydreaming (Black bear-Superior National Forest) in 2005. A painting which to my amazement was by far the best painting of my life. Here I was at the age of 53(then) working full-time as a custodian doing better work then when I had painted full-time 20 years earlier. Suddenly I knew I could do this. My goal is to paint wildlife full-time again. I work 6:00 am till 2:30 pm, come home, make a pot of coffee and put on a C.D. and paint for a few hours. What is the reason for my dramatic improvement? To be doing the best work of my life at the age of 57? I really didn't think that I would have this opportunity again. 8 years is a long time. But once I started to paint again in 2002, the rust began to fall from my fingertips and I began to rediscover the absolute joy of painting. I became genuinely inspired. I cherish this gift that God has given to me and I believe that He wants me to paint again.

        I am now working on a series of paintings entitled " The Magnificent Animals of the Superior National Forest". The bear painting that I did for my wife," Daydreaming" is the first in this series. The 2nd is a  Moose painting, entitled "The Monarch and the Messenger". The 3rd, and most recently completed as of November 2010 is a  wolf painting entitled "Curious Company". 

       I have hiked the trails of the Superior National Forest and canoed and fished the boundary waters wilderness for 28 years. This is a place that is truly unique in the entire world. The myriads of lakes connected by countless streams and rivers intermingle and it can be next to impossible to distinguish where one lake begins or ends. My son and I are in a canoe, as a Bald Eagle glides down silently from atop a tall white pine down over the water. Tommy look over here! I feel a whoosh and feel the beating of wings. An Osprey drops the small walleye, as it flies away low over the water. The Eagle scoops up this prize and up to it's perch for dinner. The sun is dipping low and painting the evening sky. Loons call out their approval. It is something we will never forget. The 3 million acres of the Superior National Forest is bordered to the north by the boundary waters and Quetico provincial park (Canada's version of the BWCAW) and to the southeast by the crown jewel of all this splendor, Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water in the world, with water so clear that when peering down from a 300 foot cliff you can easily see boulders 30 feet under the surface. Every river and stream eventually makes it down to the big lake. The rivers begin to cascade and form waterfall's as the endless flow of water boils over dramatic cliffs and gorges to Superior. This is a place where moose still thrive and wolves run. It’s a paradise for black bear with blueberries and raspberries in abundance. Eagles, loons, beaver and in the far northern regions the secretive Canada lynx and great gray owl all call home. Yes this awesome place speaks to my heart, and my paintings are from my heart. But there is a greater wonder here that speaks to my soul. It is not the creation but the Creator who speaks to my soul.

        When I painted science fiction art back in the 70's, my friends and I would sit on a hillside while looking up at the night sky and just talk about how incredible it all was. While gazing into the depths of this eternity. I thought that there had to be something beyond this life. To just live and die without experiencing it just did not make sense. I was searching for answers but looking in all the wrong places. Among the many philosophies that I believed, or was intrigued with was evolution. Although many people today believe in this theory, most people do not really think too much about it. It is merely something they have been taught to believe as fact. It is taught as a fact in our schools, but evolution, which was originally called by Darwin himself, "Theory", is now embraced as fact. As I said I was searching for answers, to the important questions of life. For truth, and meaning and I really thought deeply about these things. Over the years as I experienced life, and matured as a person, life itself illustrated to me that evolution was simply not true. To believe in evolution you really have to ignore the obvious about the human condition. If evolution were true, at this stage of human history would we not have peace? How about a cure for cancer? Exploring far off galaxies? That’s only true in the movie theaters. At this present late stage of human history we have not moved past the most basic of human evils. When we watch the nightly news what do we see? Never ending wars, another sexual predator, school shootings, gang violence, rampant corruption at the highest levels of finance and government. Need I go on?  The evolutionist will point to amazing advances in technology. But technology is not a barometer for raw human intelligence. It is merely learned knowledge passed down from one generation to the next. Each succeeding generation builds on the discoveries of the last. Here is an example. The wheel of course was invented in 985 B.C. by Fred Flintstone, 459 generations of improvements and we have the present day automobile. No, more often than not it is used to devise new ways to kill. To lose ourselves in worlds of fantasy and depravity, to escape the reality of this world. As we watch the nightly news we see a world in chaos. The world searches for the answer before we self destruct. 

      I am so glad I found the answer in 1982; the answer is not in the tired worn out philosophies of this world. To trust that mankind will eventually find the answer. The answer is Jesus Christ. John 3:16 says" For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes will not perish but have eternal life". I prayed in 1982 to receive Jesus Christ into my heart as Lord and Savior. I still believe in dinosaurs, but now I know who created them. I am saddened to see the natural world and the last wilderness disappear, but the Bible in the book of Revelation speaks of a New Heaven and a New Earth I know there is a happy ending to this story. I thank the Lord for where He has brought me, my son-Tom Jr. and my wife Ellen, and I trust that my paintings reflect in some small way the majesty of His creation.

Thomas F. Gross