Thomas Holt leans back in his chair, completely relaxed and looking distinctly Western with his jeans, cowboy boots and cowboy hat. Around him, on the walls, stands of autumn aspens blaze in orange and yellow, while nearby creeks and streams meander calmly through forest scenes.
These are Holt's paintings. A well-known artist of Western landscapes, Holt has briefly taken up residence at the Grand Lake Lodge, where he not only displays his artwork, but actually paints it in the lobby for any and all to observe.
An avid outdoorsman, Holt lives in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri with his wife, Karen. The two are an artistic duo - she takes photographs of landscapes, and he paints them.
Thomas Holt describes his style as Western Impressionistic Landscape. He deals almost exclusively with Western-themed landscapes, all natural scenes devoid of man-made objects or presence. He uses acrylic paints mixed with stone and earth pigments. These pigments come in the form of powdered dust, which Holt mixes with his other paints. The pigments add a more natural element to the colors, which Holt finds particularly satisfying.
Artistry comes easily to Holt, who has developed his talents on his own. After devoting more than 30 years to wood sculpting, Holt decided to switch to the less physically vigorous pastime of painting. It wasn't long before he began to develop a reputation for quality works. Now he has an impressive resume, having done shows in places like Jackson and Saratoga, Wyo., and down through Missouri and Nebraska, among others.
In the spotlight
Though artists are often known for hiding away from the public, that is not the case here. Holt often paints in front of audiences, sometimes drawing crowds of between 50 and 100 people. He calls his performance "entertainment," and is willing to take questions and interact with those who stop to watch. Sometimes, however, it might take a moment for him to reply, as he gets caught up in his project.
"He's in the painting world," Karen Holt explains.
The Holts' willingness to reach out to their supporters is also evidenced through their website, which gives buyers a phone number to call in order to learn "the story behind" each painting.
"It's about personal connections," says Thomas Holt.
Most often, callers learn about the scene that inspired their paintings. For example, there might have been a herd of elk grazing just outside of the frame, or it might have been morning, and Holt will describe the temperature and smell of the air, the feeling of actually being in the scene.
"It makes the picture real," he says.
Holt believes paintings are more than just merely decoration, but emotional and personal investments. He wants his viewers to be able to sense the real scene behind each of his paintings. He never invents a scene, but pulls them all from wife Karen Holt's photography.
"If you can't walk into that painting, I've failed," he says. "You should be able to go in there and live in that painting."
Spectators of Holt's painting will also be impressed with the speed with which Holt completes each piece. He estimates that a medium-sized painting takes him two days, or about 10 hours, to finish. This explains the prolific amount of work he produces - between 60 and 70 paintings per year.
"When I see it, I can't leave," he says, referring to his inability to leave a painting unfinished. "It gets to me, sometimes even at night."
Holt's inspiration draws from himself and the natural beauty of his subjects. He won't name any other artist as an influence, saying that painting "is an individual thing. Everybody's different."
Each of Holt's paintings is unique - he doesn't do copies. Though he doesn't have any specific artistic signature, as such, he points out that most of his paintings have some sort of water element. "Creeks, rivers, lakes, nearly all have water," he says, pointing to various paintings on the wall. Karen Holt says that often while they're out framing a stream for a shot, her husband, an avid fisherman, will start eyeing the water, spotting a choice fishing spot - a rare moment of distraction from his art.
As for advice for aspiring artists, Holt says, "Practice, practice, practice. Keep doing it till you see it."
Holt follows his own advice, continually painting, continually honing his craft. He doesn't limit himself to just that, however. Though both he and his wife are retired, they see no need to "give up," as Holt put it, and sit around doing nothing. Together they enjoy outdoor pursuits such as hiking, hunting and fishing. Both have written and published novels. They also plan to expand their skill set this winter by picking up the guitar, and the Spanish language.
This is the Holts' second visit to Grand Lake, and won't be the last. They plan to return next summer to enjoy the lake, and nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. They will be here for another week or two, with Holt still painting and displaying his artwork in the Grand Lake Lodge, before moving on.
With Holt, in the end, it all comes down to painting.
"It's freedom with the brush," he says, then laughs. "In life, sometimes that's the only thing you get!"
‰ Thomas Holt website: http://thomasholtartgallery.com/