An school of excellence founded by a renowned Appalachian painter
Florence Thomas Art School in historic downtown West Jefferson is dedicated to inspiring excellence in the arts through instruction in the fine arts, master crafts and heritage crafts. The school was founded in 2007, upon the death of Ashe County native Florence Thomas.
Born in in 1909, Florence Young Thomas grew up in a world difficult to visualize today. With no electricity, few roads and no means of travel except walking or horses. Small communities, each with its own church, country store, and school, were essential. Florence’s parents made their living from the land, but they valued education for their eight children above all, moving from one small Ashe County community to another, always in search of better schools. Florence had her first exposure to painting in high school. She and a classmate made copies of paintings on scraps of canvas, which they sold for two dollars apiece. She had found her passion and pursued it for the rest of her life, though the road was never easy.
Florence painted scenes of the life all around her, her art is characterized by softness and light, allowing the viewer to enter a scene uncluttered by excessive detail. In her scores of landscapes, portraits, or her enchanted renderings of animals, she captured the essence and spirit of her subjects with a simplicity and distinctive elegance all her own.
“I don’t put much detail in my painting because if you tell everything you know about something, and just load it with detail, it’s like a person that gossips and talks too much. You don’t allow the viewer to enter the picture,” she said.
She captured the soul and the mystery, and ultimately the comfort, of common things-farm animals, flowers, landscapes-found around her rural Appalachian home. A gallery of her works is open year round.
From May to October, Florence Art School hosts more than 50 one-to-three day workshops, with classes ranging from painting to weaving, handmade paper to digital photography, and creative writing to traditional music, as well as children’s classes. It includes the Florence Thomas Gallery and Reception Center, a classroom and weaving studio, lodge, cabins and a gift shop on 10-beautiful acres bordering the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.
Visitors are welcome to walk the grounds during daylight hours, visit the gallery and enjoy the rich cultural heritage of the area.
For hours, a calendar of events and other news, go to the website.