Each January, the Arts and Education Council presents the St. Louis Arts Awards where we gather to celebrate the individuals and organizations whose contributions to our artistic community make the bi-state region more vibrant. On January 27, at the 2020 St. Louis Arts Awards, we’ll celebrate seven honorees, including Lifetime Achievement in the Arts honoree Solomon Thurman, Jr.

Solomon Thurman, Jr. is an artist, researcher, teacher and co-owner of 10th Street Gallery. As a child, his father enrolled him in the People’s Art Center, because he was drawing on the walls. There he started painting and learning from his peers. Painting for more than five decades, Thurman’s art focuses primarily on the American experience with an emphasis on the African Diaspora. He has been featured in numerous one-man and group exhibitions in the United States, Canada and Brazil.

Among his significant body of work is “Black Americans in Flight”, a 51-foot-long mural located at St. Louis Lambert International Airport that he painted in partnership with Spencer Taylor. They had previously worked at McDonnell Douglas at the same time, and while they didn’t know each other Thurman knew of Taylor’s work and approached him about putting together a proposal. The mural took them five years to complete and during that time Solomon shared that it was like “going through a master’s program” in art school.

Prominent St. Louis civil rights attorney, Margaret Bush Wilson, commissioned Thurman to paint a portrait of Celia, a slave from Fulton, MO. The larger than life size painting was unveiled at the Missouri Historical Society in 1995. He compiled two booklets on the subject; the first booklet, the “The Face of Celia”, documents his experience while he painted the portrait; the second, written ten years after the unveiling, depicted an illustrated narrative of Celia’s life, titled “Celia vs. the State of Missouri”. 

In a salute to his ancestry, Thurman created a 33-piece exhibit, depicting the hardships of post-slavery life in southern Mississippi and the Great Migration north. The paintings retraced the area and experiences of Thurman’s third cousin Emmett Till, lynched in 1955.

Thurman has received numerous grants and recognition for his artistic projects, including from the Regional Arts Commission, Missouri Arts Council and Black World History Museum. He was featured in “Who’s Who in Black St. Louis”. Thurman was named Individual Artist of the Year by the Missouri Arts Council and received the Dred Scott Foundation Award for his artistic contribution to the community in 2018. He was a founding member and executive board member of Creative Company (1982 – 2001), a St. Louis-based visual artist collective.

When not painting, researching or lecturing, he is a community outreach instructor at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Thurman and his wife, Pat Smith Thurman, co-chaired the Arts and Education Council’s 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards. Thurman earned a liberal arts degree from Forest Park College in 1978 and graduated from Graphique Commercial Art Institute in 1980. He is a 2002 graduate of the Regional Arts Commission’s Community Arts Training Institute.

Solomon Thurman, Jr.'s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award is sponsored Nancy and Ken Kranzberg.

Proceeds from the St. Louis Arts Awards help the Arts and Education Council invest in the people and organizations that create diverse performances, exhibitions, workshops, art education programs and so much more for 1.6 million adults and children in our community each year. Tickets for the 2020 St. Louis Arts Awards start at $300. Learn more about the event here.

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