Thomas is a master in the art of conservation

  • By Michael Pearce The Wichita Eagle
  • Saturday, March 24, 2012 10:45pm
  • Sports

WICHITA, Kan. — For about 25 years, those who appreciate the outdoors have appreciated the wildlife artwork of Jerry Thomas.

The native of Scott City, Kan., has created hundreds of outdoors paintings that have become everything from greeting cards and fine shotgun engravings to prized commissioned pieces and widely circulated prints.

With fine details down to the number of feathers in a strutting turkey’s wing or perfect replication of colors on a rooster pheasant, he’s rated as one of the nation’s best.

But few realize how much the art has done for conservation and other causes through wide-scale sales of limited edition prints and other creations.

As an avid sportsman, Thomas said he feels indebted to conservation groups for enhancing wildlife. As a professional, he feels gratitude because many supported him greatly in his early days as an artist.

Thomas has no exact figures, but simple math shows his works have raised a lot.

“Ducks Unlimited did over 2,500 prints of one painting and they probably averaged, conservatively, $250 at auctions,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t take many of those to get into (millions).”

Mike Hayden is familiar with the contributions.

While serving as the governor of Kansas in the late 1980s, he began working on projects with Thomas. The relationship has held through Hayden’s tours with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and years with Kansas Wildscape.

“Jerry’s work has done a tremendous amount of good, working with Ducks Unlimited and a host of other organizations,” Hayden said. “He’s helped raise a tremendous amount of money and his work usually carries a strong conservation message, too.”

Other groups include the National Wild Turkey Federation, Waterfowl USA, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Pheasants Forever.

The money raised from such sales goes mostly toward habitat and hunting recruitment projects.

Sometimes Thomas has been commissioned for such projects. Other times he’s done it so he could keep the original and gain further exposure.

This is the 20th year he’s donated the official print for the Governor’s Turkey Hunt.

Becky Wolfe, hunt director, said the annual prints are presented to the 200-plus landowners who donate hunting grounds.

Thomas’ No. 1 signed print of each painting may bring $1,000 or more for the hunt that sponsors several college scholarships.

Proceeds have gone for other causes, too.

About 10 years ago funds were needed to create a 250-acre wetland hunting area for youth near Milford Reservoir. The project was to honor Zach Hudec, an avid 14-year-old hunter who died unexpectedly.

Selling prints of a painting Thomas did of Hudec’s favored hunting spot was a sizable part of the fund raising.

These are especially busy times for Thomas. His home holds several artworks in progress and a gallery of his works has been opened in Scott City, Kan.

In the past few years he’s gained a reputation for his western history paintings.

His attention to detail includes perfect replication of the clothing worn and gear carried by participants. Their exact likenesses come from researching old photographs.

Thomas, 53, has donated prints to help with several western causes, like the purchase of land that once held a famed Cheyenne camp near Larned, Kan., that Custer and his men failed to conquer. The U.S. National Park Service manages the site.

Hayden said as much as Thomas’ works have already done to promote good causes, the best may be yet to come.

“As Jerry’s matured, his artwork has matured, too, and he keeps getting better,” Hayden said. “He’s got a lot of good years left ahead of him.”

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