“He’d send jobs my way. He also began sharing tricks, tips and secrets about what he knew,” Thomas said. So, at 23, Thomas began refinishing furniture while continuing to paint. Five years would pass before he could eke out a living performing refinishing exclusively.
That was 31 years ago.
The heard of an artist
“I have always been an artist at heart. I was drawing and carving wood before I was a teenager. I built two or three boats when I was 12-13,” said Thomas, 54. “I do leatherwork and craft moccasins, quivers, bows, spears. All of the Native American artistry has come from books I’ve read or by educating myself in the craft through trial and error – mostly error,” he laughs.
His workshop is stacked high with personal projects. Thomas-made squirrel sticks – a kind of mallet hurled at squirrels while hunting – are proudly displayed at the Chickasaw Visitors Center in Sulphur and Chickasaw Welcome Center in Davis.
But clients come first and his success is illustrated in his schedule. Projects brought to him today are on a 60-day waiting period.
With the youngest of four children graduating Putnam City North High School this spring, he and his wife, Pam, will have an empty nest for the first time in a long time.
He is moving toward retiring, but the business he crafted from scratch keeps the dream just beyond reach.
“I probably will never ‘retire retire,’” Thomas said. “I’ll have important projects to work on and clients who have trusted me for decades, so I’ll keep at it.”
Gene Lehmann is a senior writer with the Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Department