It’s not difficult to see that art is Jackie Thomas’s passion. As you walk in her home, artwork – both created and collected by Thomas – is in full display. Even as she sits down to talk, a basket she has been weaving is close by.
It’s that continued passion, even after retiring from the Williamsport Area School District, that recently earned Thomas the National Art Education Association Retired Art Educator of the Year award.
“I’m thrilled. I’m really, really honored to have been able to compete with people from all over the United States,” Thomas said of the recognition.
These days, Thomas is hard at work creating new art pieces and volunteering at schools and art camps.
“It was a great job. I loved it,” she said of her time at Williamsport. “But as soon as I retired, I told everybody, ‘I’m going to volunteer but I’ll only volunteer in art.’ “
Art – especially fiber art – has been in Thomas’s life for as long as she can remember. Her grandfather worked in silk mills and her mother made clothing.
“So I guess that’s part of it. And so I had started to sew and make clothing. I was making clothing to wear to school when I was 9. And my mother let me wear it to school,” she said, with a laugh.
Thomas would use her allowance to buy inexpensive materials to make her clothing. The fact that her mother allowed her to wear her garments in public was “amazing,” she said.
“I felt very self-confident. I felt wonderful. I felt like I had the most gorgeous clothing in the world because nobody else had anything like it,” Thomas remembered.
Now, she said her artistic career has come “full circle.”
“And right now it’s interesting – (it’s) full circle right now. I’m working at Jackson (Elementary School) with fourth- and fifth-graders and we’re making clothing that they’re going to wear,” she said with a smile.
Thomas received her teaching degree from Kutztown University and taught art classes for the Quakertown and North Penn school districts before coming to Williamsport.
She can’t remember exactly what made her want to go into teaching but she knew she wanted to have a career with art.
“I think it was – I don’t know – I guess it was just fate. It was just something that was meant to be. I always wanted to deal with art. I always wanted to be involved with art,” Thomas said.
But after teaching art for years, she wanted to take the next step to administrator.
“I said, ‘I really want to work with all the teachers. I really want to show how art is part of math, and it’s part of English and social studies, and everything,'” she said.
Thomas served as director of curriculum, professional development director, department head for art, assistant superintendent and acting superintendent at Williamsport. But since retiring, “It’s all been about art, art, art.”
In addition to working in the schools and art camps, Thomas works in her studio seven days a week, creating new pieces.
“I have more control over my life, you know. I have more opportunities to say, ‘This is what I want to do.’ and I can actually – I would’ve never said, ‘No,’ when I worked. And I loved every minute of everything I did, but I have the opportunity now to say, ‘No’ if I don’t want to do something,” she said about her life now.
Despite being retired, Thomas isn’t planning on slowing down. As part of her honor with the art association, she will write for various publications, including a blog. And, of course, there’s a new art series she’s creating called “Twisted Sister.”
All of these things will keep her busy and she’s enjoying every minute of it.
“Everybody keeps asking me if I’m going to slow down and I don’t see – I’m still young,” she said. “I expect to stay busy.”