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Artist on Display: Thomas K. Merriam

Artist Thomas K. Merriam visited the library to talk about his background and share the inspiration behind the artwork he currently has on display at the library.


Thomas K. Merriam is the president of the York Art Association and a self-taught artist whose paintings, wood sculptures, and sign carvings reflect his roots as a Maine native. While growing up in the woodlands of North Berwick and along the shorelines of York Harbor, Merriam developed a keen appreciation for the wonders of nature and wildlife, as well as a heartfelt sense of American history. As an apprentice to George Carpenter, the last surviving member of the Whiskey Water Color Association, Merriam received a unique grounding in a technique which he continues to build on today. From the sea to the hills, Merriam learned to observe and record by painting small watercolor studies for later use when producing full size versions in his studio. He was trained to use whiskey in the winter as a wash so his brushes would not freeze and he could work outside in almost any weather. Merriam also learned to work fast and catch the nuances of light in a scene and other atmospheric conditions before they changed or faded. His work is filled with a Maine mystique and is reminiscent of the natural beauty and venerable traditions of New England. The nostalgic character of New England's barns always grabs Merriam's attention. Similarly, the rugged seascapes and rolling hills of its pastoral settings always capture his heart. Intricate details in his paintings offer a visual experience that tells a story, evokes memories, and stirs feelings in the viewer, the sound of wind moving through tall pines or the smell of freshly cut hay.


Born in 1959, Merriam is one of seven children in a creative, artistic family, who from the age of six was encouraged by his father to draw pictures from National Geographic magazines. His father owned a design and construction business and had an appreciation for clean functional designs and accurately portrayed proportions, so he demanded an attention to detail in Thomas' drawings. Sometimes this resulted in Merriam drawing the same image repeatedly until his father was satisfied with the outcome.


At a young age, Merriam was exposed to the wilds of nature, and it was common for him to encounter deer, fox, muskrats, fisher cats, turtles, birds, and other wildlife during his childhood adventures, which included hunting and fishing. He grew up in a part of Maine that was also steeped in history, and he often explored old museums, Indian caves, and bottle dumps. He would spend hours outside drawing birds, working to imitate their songs in order to entice them closer. His love of nature and history inspire his artwork. Another source of inspiration was Merriam's grandfather, who enjoyed building furniture in his retirement. Once again, the young man was encouraged to develop his creative side, and he was given tools for wood burning and carving. The burgeoning artist responded eagerly and quickly developed a love of both disciplines. Working beside his grandfather, he would burn an animal image or Indian head into a piece of pine to decorate a seat or the top of a coffee table. As an adult, wood carving, illustration, sign making, and hand lettering are all disciplines in which Merriam has developed and demonstrated mastery. He has also worked on various graphic art projects such as brochures, business cards, logos, and catalogs. Merriam is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Boston and has owned his own piano tuning and sign carving businesses. Merriam developed his natural talent through hard work and observation over more than forty-five years. He now devotes his time towards his passion of the arts: painting, carving, illustrating, and writing.


Merriam's work is becoming part of the Maine landscape. His murals can be seen on Great Northern Docks on Route 302 in Naples, Watkins Farm in Casco, and the Casco Raymond Historical Society. The restored Strand Cinema in Skowhegan is decorated with forty-three of his murals. He has also painted murals on walls in children's wards at various major hospitals, businesses, factories, and showrooms.


He has exhibited in numerous galleries throughout Maine and New Hampshire, was commissioned by Maine Inland Fish and Wildlife to produce watercolors for their program of 'Commissioners' prints, created a sculpture for the Maine Wildlife Park, and was commissioned to paint original watercolors for several Inns. His artwork also adorns Maine license plates and has been displayed on the cover of Lake Living and Maine Wildlife magazines. Merriam's wood carving talent earned him six national awards in Dimension Sign Design. To see more of Merriam's art, visit his website Bear in the Briars.

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