Shareholder Spotlight: Colleen Firmin Thomas
Doyon, Limited shareholder, Colleen Firmin Thomas, recently received one of the state’s top awards for her unique and abstract artwork. Thomas, one of 25 artists to receive the Project Award in the 2018 Individual Artist Awards from the Rasmuson Foundation, said she was incredibly honored to have been selected.
Thomas is Gwich’in Athabascan from Fort Yukon and Fairbanks. She is the daughter of Jim Firmin and Susan (Kelly) Firmin. Her grandparents are Lewis and Geraldine Firmin of Anchorage, and Amos and Zelma Kelly of Fort Yukon. She is married to Joseph Thomas, and together they raise their two children, Rowan and Meadow, in Fairbanks.
“Art is a form of self-exploration, it shows where I come from, what it means to me and where I am now,” said Thomas.
Thomas first began painting when her mom was teaching her how to bead. Frustrated with the time it took to sew, she turned to paint the patterns instead. Her parents saw her potential and encouraged her to continue.
Thomas’ first professional painting was inspired by her mom’s sewing table with porcupine quills scattered across the top. The “Sewing Tabletop” represented a turning point and encouraged a new direction in her work. Today, she creates visually stunning pieces of abstract art that integrate modern textures and colors, delicately detailed with porcupine quills. Using nature, modern textures, and traditional Gwich’in sewing for inspiration, Thomas’ artwork is a representation of cultural integration.
“What I love the most about Colleen’s artwork is the way it lands right in the middle of ancient and modern. She uses materials that epitomize timelessness, like moose hairs and porcupine quills, but she places them on a canvas to create something completely new and compelling,” said Monika Adcock, president of Vision Construction International. “For instance, her recent piece, ‘Nurture,’ uses sinew, porcupine quills, sewing patterns, thick acrylic paint, and circles. Each medium contributes to a finished image that is confidently contemporary and bold. Her landscapes make me think of both bygone Alaskan river ways and futuristic utopian lands.”
Thomas encourages other artists to apply for the award programs offered through the Rasmuson Foundation. The awards provide much more than just funding; it helps promote the artists through social media, stories, films and its website. The Rasmuson Foundation also sponsors intensive workshops to help artists build their business skills.
“It is hard as an Alaska Native to promote my business because I was not raised this way,” said Thomas. “The class helped me get out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries. There is a lot of creativity in the Native community, and people tend to underestimate themselves.”
Thomas plans to use the grant to create several new paintings for her first solo art show at the Bunell Street Art Gallery in Homer, Alaska, in August 2019.