Thom Atkins has been making things all his life. Somewhere there is a photograph of him at about three years old, decorating a mud pie with flowers and bits of sticks and shell. How things go together has always fascinated him. He came from a family where artistic expression was encouraged. Thom’s grandmother taught him and his sister how to sew on a treadle sewing machine.
After graduating from San Jose State College with a Bachelor’s of Art in interior decoration, he joined the Navy, where he went from the medical corps to medical illustration school, but the only illustration he did was in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute, doing illustrations of the mammals of Vietnam. After leaving the Navy, he managed Friends of the Crafts gallery in Seattle. Still having the desire to make things, he took an extension class at the University of Washington on making stained glass.
Some 30 years ago, his sister, Robin Atkins, taught him the basics of bead embroidery on fabric. He’s been fascinated with beads ever since, but sewing beads onto fabric and making stained glass didn’t produce a decent living. He was also tired of the fragility of glass, so he went back to college, where he learned about welding, forging, silversmithing, and bronze casting. Bronze casting gave him back the tactile surfaces and the subtleties of three-dimensional curves and negative space.
A car accident terminated his career in sculpting in bronze. While recovering from the surgery to repair his wrists and thumbs, he thought about sewing beads onto cloth in such a way that the beads and the fabric both had a say in the design. He’s been working with the delicate balance between beads and fabric in his designs ever since.
Thom and his wife live in Santa Cruz, California.
By this author:
Beading Artistry for Quilts