John Paul Thomas Collection, ca. 1948-2001

Collection Overview

Title: John Paul Thomas Collection, ca. 1948-2001

Record Series: MsC-83

Record Group:


Creator: John Paul Thomas

Date: ca. 1948-2001

Extent: 21.83 linear feet plus 5 items, 20 boxes

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

Language: Most of this material is in English. However, some in in the native Hawaiian language.

Information for Users

Accessing the Collection:

No restrictions. Materials are open for research.

Note: Under terms of the donation, anyone wishing to use the Grid Theory in Boxes 1 and 17 or any of the material in Boxes 9-11 must sign a form agreeing to credit John Paul Thomas for information that they gather for use elsewhere.

Physical Access: Boxes 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18 are located in Manuscripts Oversized 3.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Initial shipments of this collection were donated to Special Collections & University Archives in 2010 by Jerré Tanner, who wrote a symphony inspired by "Boy with Goldfish". Much larger portions of the collection arrived in 2013 and 2014.

Related archival materials can be found in MsC-68 Jerre Tanner Collection and MsC-69 Harvey J. Hess, III Collection, both located in Special Collections & University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa. Both Mr. Tanner and Mr. Hess collaborated in artistic creations with Mr. Thomas in Hawaii for many years.  

Sensitive Materials Statement: Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy or similar laws, and the Iowa Open Records Law (see Iowa Code § 22.7). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Northern Iowa assumes no responsibility.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], in the [Series Title] #[series number], [folder number or title when applicable], [Collection Name], Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

General Use, Reproduction, and Copyright Policies

Many items housed in the Rod Library Special Collections & University Archives, including unpublished images and manuscripts, may be protected by copyright, publication rights, trademarks, or model release rights which the library does not own and for which the library cannot grant permission or licensing. Materials currently under copyright are usually still available for research and limited reproduction under Fair Use laws. However, it is the sole responsibility of the patron to determine whether or not their use of a given material falls within Fair Use guidelines and to obtain permission for said use from the rightful copyright owner. If you are unsure where to begin, please consult the Copyright LibGuide. Please note that it is not the library's responsibility to locate or contact copyright holders for a patron, and neither the library nor library employees are responsible for copyright violations of the materials to which they facilitate research access.

Please see our full General Use and Service Policies for more information.

Historical Note

John Paul Thomas (1927-2001), a graduate of New York University, was one of the foremost painters of Hawaii.  His work has been seen nationally and internationally in over two hundred prestigious solo and group exhibitions in museums, universities, and distinguished art galleries such as the Contemporary Museum's Advertiser Gallery, Honolulu; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; San Francisco Legion of Honor; the American Library in Bucharest, Romania; and the Galleria Schneider in Rome.  He won many important awards, grants, and scholarships, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant, two Yaddo Fellowships, and commissions from Delta Airlines and the State (of Hawaii) Foundation on Culture and the Arts.  His last commission from the SFCA was a painting in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Washington Place, former home of the last queen of Hawaii, Lili'uokalani, and now the Governor's mansion.

Mr. Thomas, who was born in Bessemer, Alabama, has been Visiting Professor at six major universities, including the University of Iowa, where he was Visiting Professor of Life Drawing, and has occupied the Ames Walker Professorship Chair at the University of Washington, Seattle.  The art of John Thomas has been featured in American Artist, Aloha, the Magazine of Hawaii, Hawaii, Spirit of Aloha, Western World, and has appeared on the covers of several magazines including American Artist.  His monumental oil paintings Boy with Goldfish are reproduced in color in the CD album of the London Symphony Orchestra digital recording of the music which they inspired (Albany Records TROY 053). Thomas's art is in numerous public and private collections, including those of the state of Hawaii, Orange County (California) Museum, and the Hirshhorn at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

(Adapted from statement prepared by Peter R. Underwood, Discovery Antiques, Kealakekua, Hawaii)

Scope and Content

Notes by collection processor and arranger Dave Hoing

This collection, although quite extensive, does not include a great deal of personal material of the kind that allows one to understand John Paul Thomas the man. What he writes about himself, in essays and a brief period of journal entries, generally concerns his art and art theory, not the details of his life.  What others write about him also focuses on his art. Even much of his correspondence discusses business matters pertaining to his art, although some letters and postcards to and from family and friends are represented here. There are many files of financial information, not only about his art, but his association with Malama Arts in Hawaii, medical bills and invoices, and matters concerning his death. Again, though, one does not get a true sense of the man.

What becomes clear, then, is that it is difficult to separate John Paul Thomas the man from John Paul Thomas the artist. In the end, perhaps that is the legacy he would have wished to leave.

The collection arrived at the library already well organized by Jerré Tanner. Where possible I have remained true to Mr. Tanner's folder labels and content organization and descriptions.  Thus, I did not rearrange the contents of each individual folder chronologically or alphabetically. Nor did I create an itemized list of the specific contents, beyond a general description of the kind of material each folder contains.

I combined subjects and materials that seemed logically to go together, but in many cases it was neither feasible nor desirable to place all related material into the same box.  For example, although boxes 5 and 6 are designated for Mr. Thomas's correspondence, many of the subdivisions listed below also contain correspondence of some kind. Those letters relate to specific topics or works of art.  Rather than filing them in boxes 5 and 6 with the bulk of the correspondence, I left them in the folders about those topics or works, as Mr. Tanner had sent them to us.

A note about the correspondence: For most letters the envelopes were discarded, particularly if an entire folder was dedicated to correspondence to and from a single individual. Where correspondence from multiple sources exists other than boxes 5 and 6, the envelopes were retained only if they contained pertinent information.

Photographs are arranged in the same manner as correspondence.. Boxes 7 and part of 8 are devoted specifically to photographs, slides, and other reproductions of Mr. Thomas's art, but again, many of the individual files elsewhere also contain photographs and reproductions, and I left those where they were.

The collection is organized in the following general manner:

  • Box 1 - Biographical; Grid Theory; Teaching Materials
  • Box 2 - Art Gallery Exhibitions
  • Box 3 - Business
  • Box 4 - Business; Articles; Critiques; Press Clippings and Releases; Reviews
  • Box 5 - Correspondence, A-F
  • Box 6 - Correspondence, G-W
  • Box 7 - Slides and Photographic Negatives of Mr. Thomas's Artwork
  • Box 8 - Photographs and Other Reproductions of Mr. Thomas's Artwork; Miscellaneous Material
  • Box 9 - Studies
  • Box 10 - Studies; Color Strips, Wheels, and Palettes Used for Individual Works
  • Box 11 - Miscellaneous Color Strips, Wheels, and Palettes Not Linked to Specific Works
  • Box 12 - Ka Lei No Kane and Pupu-Kani-Oe
  • Box 13 - Books and Magazines Owned by Mr. Thomas
  • Boxes 14-16 - John Paul Thomas Artwork (Large boxes)
  • Box 17 - John Paul Thomas Artwork (Larger box)
  • Box 18 - John Paul Thomas Artwork (Largest box)
  • Box 19 - John Paul Thomas Artwork
  • Box 20 - John Paul Thomas Artwork

More specific information about each box may be found in the inventory below.



Folder 1: John Paul Thomas Biography (from Wikipedia)

Folder 2: Thomas Family Genealogy

Folders 3-5: Education

  • Folder 3: Diploma, New School for Social Research
  • Folder 4: Master's Thesis, New York University
  • Folder 5: Years 1948-1955 - New York, Rome, and Birmingham, Michigan (Mostly photographs)

Folder 6: Personal Photographs

Folder 7: Personal Journal (Written in Birmingham, Michigan)

Folder 8: Writings (Essays about his art and art theory, one short story)

Folder 9: Chronological List of Works

Folder 10: Fellowships (Resumes, applications, correspondence)

Folder 11: Fellowships, Yaddo (Correspondence, applications, reunion information)

Folder 12: Grants and Foundations

Folder 13: Medical Records

Folder 14: Death

Folder 15: Poetry (Written by others, but most dedicated to Mr. Thomas)

Folders 16-19: Grid Theory (If used elsewhere, the researcher must sign agreement crediting John Paul Thomas for the information.)

  • Folder 16: Analysis of Renaissance Paintings
  • Folder 17: Different Kinds of Grids
  • Folder 18: Lecture: "The Organization of Space"
  • Folder 19: Sizes of Grids

Folders 20-26: Teaching Material

  • Folders 20-21: Color Painting Workshop
  • Folder 22: Color Theory, Journal Entries
  • Folders 23-24: Notes about Color (2 folders)
  • Folder 25: Color Theory
  • Folder 26: Notes


These are art galleries in which Mr. Thomas had his art exhibited, either in a one-man show or with others.

Folder 1: Allen Gallery

Folder 2: Contemporary Museum, The

Folder 3: Esther-Robles Art Gallery, The

  • 1960
  • 1961
  • 1963
  • 1964
  • 1966
  • 1974

Folder 4: Gallery EAS

Folder 5: Honolulu Academy of the Arts

Folder 6: Paul Kantor Gallery

  • 1957
  • 1958

Folder 7: Polynesian Village Arcade, The

Folder 8: Stones Gallery, The

Folder 9: University of Hawaii at Hilo (Boy with Goldfish)

Folder 10: University of Wisconsin

Folders 11-12: Various, 1970-1982

Folder 13: Wailoa Center, The


Many of the boxes in this collection contain some aspect of Mr. Thomas's business affairs. The files in this and the following box are ones specifically labeled by Mr. Tanner as business.

Folder 1: Appraisal of John Paul Thomas Art

Folder 2: Appraisal of Robert Cremean Art

Folder 3: Art Contracts

Folder 4: Art Materials (Catalogs and invoices)

Folder 5: Boy with Goldfish (Correspondence, clippings, reproductions of CD covers)

Folders 6-7: Commissions

  • Folder 6: Delta Airlines
  • Folder 7: Hawaii State Foundation for Culture and the Art
    • Airport Commission
    • Hilo Intake Center
    • Washington Place (Notes, correspondence, copyright issues - 2 folders)

Folders 8-15: Correspondence

  • Folder 8: American Artist Magazine
  • Folders 9-12: Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Folders 13-15: Esther-Robles Art Gallery

Folder 16: Income Tax Return, 1969

Folder 17: Information about Art Galleries

  • Ramsey Gallery
  • Wailoa Gallery

Folder 18: Insurance Values for Visual Art

Folders 19-22: Malama Arts

  • Folders 19-21: Advertising
  • Folder 22: Art Gallery Invoices
  • Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Gallery
  • Ramsey Gallery
  • Stones Gallery
  • Volcano Gallery


Folders 1-6: Malama Arts 

  • Folder 1: Bills, Invoices, Prices
  • Folder 2: Book Cost Projections (for Hawaii Island Artists)
  • Folder 3: Correspondence
  • Folder 4: Custom Bonds, Limited Partnership, Projects, Correspondence, Costs
  • Folders 5-6: Painting Bills of Sale

Folder 7: Thomas and Associates

Folder 8: Articles about John Paul Thomas's Art

Folder 9: Critiques of John Paul Thomas's Art

Folders 10-11: Press Clippings, General

Folder 12: Press Clippings, "South View from Studio"

Folder 13: Reviews, General

Folder 14: Reviews, "The Battle Sequence," from Boy with Goldfish


Each name represents at least one folder of correspondence, not an individual letter.

Folder 1: Anderson, Eugene

Folder 2: Blair, George (Concerning Robert Cremean; includes photographs and postcards)

Folders 3-5: Cremean, Robert

Folder 6: Durand, Camille (Not to or from Ms. Durand, but correspondence concerning her death)

Folder 7:Fan Mail, General


Folders 1-4: General

Folder 5: Holman, Art

Folder 6: McGlynn, Betty

Folder 7: Northrup, Greg

Folder 8: Radner, Candice

Folder 9: Triantos, Bob

Folders 10-11: Twig-Smith, Laila

Folder 12:Walsh, Craig


Folders 1-10: Slides of Artwork

Folder 11: Slides of Publicity Photographs

Folder 12: Photographic Negatives 


Unless otherwise indicated, all of the folders in this box contain material related to many different works, not individual pieces.

Folders 1-11: Artwork

  • Folder 1: Black and White Photographs
  • Folder 2: Color Photographs 
  • Folder 3: Boy with Goldfish Photographs (Individual work)
  • Folder 4: Color Reproductions
  • Folder 5: Computer-Generated Images (Grid paintings, correspondence)
  • Folder 6: "Hawaiian Pastorale" (Individual work for Western's World magazine - clippings, black and white photographs)
  • Folder 7: Miscellaneous, 1963-1970
  • Folder 8: Miscellaneous, Unknown Years
  • Folder 9: Photographs of Drawings
  • Folder 10: "Portrait of Professor T" (Individual Work)
  • Folder 11: Reproductions, 1963-1990

Folders 12-27: Miscellaneous Material

  • Folder 12: Abercrombie, Congressman Neil (Photographs, negatives, reproductions, correspondence)
  • Folder 13: Archives of American Art (Clippings, information)
  • Folder 14: Art Reference Book List
  • Folder 15: Big Bird Collection
  • Folder 16: Calendar, 1981
  • Folder 17: Cremean, Robert (Reviews, photographs, clippings, information)
  • Folder 18: Current Events, 1995/1996 (Correspondence, clippings, brochure, press releases, programs)
  • Folder 19: Hawaii: A World Apart (Correspondence, copy of newspaper Hawaii: A World Apart)
  • Folder 20: Hawaiiana (Newspaper, clippings)
  • Folder 21: Kanaka'ole, Edith (Information)
  • Folder 22: Miscellaneous Unrelated Clippings, Photographs, Brochures, and Programs
  • Folder 23: Photographs Taken by Voyager Spacecraft
  • Folder 24: Scan (Clippings, notes)
  • Folder 25: Scanachrome/Scanamural Process by 3-M (Correspondence, clippings)
  • Folder 26: Smart, Richard (Information, clippings, programs, magazine)
  • Folder 27: Wright, Frank Lloyd (Information)


These are primarily Mr. Thomas's studies (preliminary drawings) of scenes, people, plants, and animals he intended to include in his paintings.  Almost all files also contain notes and/or clippings from newspapers and magazines related to his painting projects.  In all cases the labels on the folders are those assigned to them by the donor, Jerré Tanner. (NOTE: If used elsewhere, the researcher must sign agreement crediting John Paul Thomas for the information.)

Folder 1: African iris

Folder 2: African tulips

Folder 3: Artist polytych

Folder 4: Bamboo palm

Folder 5: Banana

Folder 6: Barbados lily

Folder 7: Bathers

Folder 8: Birds, fish, animals

Folder 9: Boy with Goldfish logo designs

Folder 10: "Cattleyas and Red Ti"

Folder 11: Cattleyas orchids

Folder 12: Cymbidium

Folder 13: Denrobiums

Folder 14: Eyes

Folder 15: Faces

Folder 16: Fans

Folder 17: "Figure by the Ocean"

Folder 18: "Garden Encounter"

Folder 19: Hands and heads

Folder 20: Hapu'u garden

Folder 21: "Hawaiian Constellation"

Folder 22: Ideas for paintings

Folder 23: Ideas for silk screens

Folder 24: "Interior with Muse and View from Window of Primavera"

Folder 25: "Interior with Two Views"

Folder 27: Java gold and Hawaiian fern

Folder 28: Jewel orchid

Folder 29: Laua'e

Folder 20: Leaves

Folder 21: Male model posing in studio

Folder 22: "Man in Foliage"

Folder 23: "Men with Bananas"

Folder 24: Miscellaneous paintings, 1954-1969

Folder 25: Miscellaneous studies and designs

Folder 26: Mountain

Folder 27: "Naupaka Floret"

Folder 28: Ocean, sky, and water

Folder 29: Orchids

Folder 30: Papaya

Folder 31: Phalaenopsis

Folder 32: Plants

Folder 33: Plumeria


Folders 1-16: Studies

  • Folder 1: Poi Company
  • Folder 2: Primavera
  • Folder 3: "Red Fences"
  • Folder 4: Scarf design
  • Folder 5: "South View from Studio"
  • Folder 6: "Still Life"
  • Folder 7: "Tempest, The"
  • Folder 8: "Ti"
  • Folder 9: Vanda orchid
  • Folder 10: "View of San Geronimo"
  • Folder 11: Views from studio
  • Folder 12: Volcano and fire
  • Folder 13: "Woman with Orchids #4 Triptych"
  • Folder 14: Women
  • Folder 15: Yellow interiors
  • Folder 16: Yellow tip orchids

Folders 17-34: Color Strips, Wheels, and Palettes Used for Individual Works

For the most part, these are not the works themselves, but rather the strips, wheels, and palettes showing the colors used in each work. However, the final two folders include actual watercolor paintings.

  • Folder 17: "Banana Triptych"
  • Folder 18: Boy with Goldfish
  • Folder 19: "Cattlesyas and Red Ti"
  • Folder 20: "Coffee Picnic"
  • Folder 21: "Day's End"
  • Folder 22: "Hina"
  • Folder 23: "Laua'e"
  • Folder 24: "Men Gathering Bananas"
  • Folder 25: Miscellaneous paintings
  • Folder 26: "Palms and Reflections"
  • Folder 27: Scales, Miscellaneous
  • Folder 28: Scales, Munsell
  • Folder 29: ​Scales, Thomas
  • Folder 30: Seriograph and colors
  • Folder 31: Swatches
  • Folder 32: "Tempest, The"
  • Folders 33-34: Watercolor pieces


All folders: These are color strips, wheels, and palettes included with the collection, but not linked to specific works


Ka Lei No Kane (Garland of the God Kane) and Pupu-Kani-Oe (The Singing Snails) are operas written by composer Jerré Tanner and librettist Harvey Hess in the 1970s. Mr. Thomas had no part in the original creation of these works, but he later designed costumes for live productions of Ka Lei No Kane. As far as can be determined, he was not connected with Pupu-Kani-Oe, but Mr. Tanner included it with Mr. Thomas's collection, so it has been retained here.

Folders 1-12: Ka Lei No Kane

  • Folder 1: 1974
  • Folder 2: 1975
  • Folder 3: 1976
  • Folder 4: 1977
  • Folder 5: 1977-1978
  • Folder 6: Account
  • Folder 7: Clippings
  • Folder 8: Hawaii Committee for the Humanities
  • Folder 9: Libretto
  • Folder 10: Miscellaneous
  • Folder 11: Press
  • Folder 12: Project 11

Folder 13: Pupu-Kani-Oe (Single folder containing miscellaneous information)


Folder 1: Alabama Impact, 1995

Folder 2: Art in America, November-December 1976

Folder 3: Art Forum

  • August 1963
  • November 1963
  • Summer 1964 (?) [Cover missing]

Folder 4: Frank Lloyd Wright 1988 Engagement Book

Folder 5: Grammar of Color, A, 1921, by Albert Munsell (signed by John Thomas)

Folder 6: Honolulu magazine, November 1999

Folder 7: Kaka'ako Community Development District Plan, 1982

Folder 8: National Geographic Magazine, v. 185 No. 1, January 1994

Folder 9: Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors, by M.E. Chrevreul, 1981

Folder 10: Whitney Museum of Art Annual Exhibition 1960


Folder 1: Color swatches

Folder 2: Drawings

Folder 3: Ink drawings (Signed by John Thomas)

Folder 4: Oils

Folder 5: Sketches

Folders 6-7: Tracing paper studies


Folder 1: Drawings, early to middle

Folders 2-3: Grid theory studies (If used elsewhere, the researcher must sign agreement crediting John Paul Thomas for the information.)

Folder 4: Small Oils

Folders 5-6: Tracing paper studies

Folder 7: Wessel Caligraphy / Hess Orchid Poems


This box consists of seventeen pencil drawings that illustrate Mr. Thomas's work on Boy with Goldfish.

Folder 1: Sketches from Boy with Goldfish

Folder 2: Sketch planning grids

Folder 3: Appraisal statement for preliminary pencil drawings noted below, November 29, 2010

Folder 4: Preliminary pencil drawings of battle scenes for the painting series Boy with Goldfish

  • Number 1 from "The Lure"
  • Number 2 from "The Lure"
  • Number 3 from "The Lure"
  • Number 4 from "The Lure"
  • Number 5 from "The Lure"
  • Number 6 from "The Lure"
  • Number 7 from "The Trance"
  • Number 8 from "The Trance"
  • Number 9 from "The Trance"
  • Number 11 from "The Trance"
  • Number 12 from "The Trance"
  • Number 13 from "The Trance"
  • Number 14 from "The Wakening"
  • Number 15 from "The Strife"
  • Number 16 from "The Strife"
  • Number 18 from "The Strife"
  • Number 19 from "The Strife"

Box 19

Painting: Harvey's Balcony, 22" X 23", oil on linen

Box 20

Painting: Piano, Arch, and Open Door, 20" X 24", oil on canvas

Processing Information

Several small initial shipments of material processed and inventory developed by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, February 3, 2014; most of the collection processed and inventory developed by Library Associate David Hoing, January-February 2015;  updated, March 1, 2016 (GP). Last updated October 2017 (dh). Linear feet count updated on August 7, 2017.