James "Son" Thomas

 

         James Thomas entered the world of the Delta on October 14, 1926, in Eden, Mississippi. He never really knew his father and was raised by his maternal grandparents, who also gave him his lifelong nickname "Son" as a term of endearment. Every Saturday the family traveled to Leland, Mississippi to visit James' mother.

        His sculptures were made from clay he collected from banks of the nearby Yazoo River. The art took a dark side when he decided to play a joke on his grandfather who had a deep fear of the paranormal. He shaped a frightful skull, complete with teeth made out of corn and placed it in a dark location that would become fully lit when his grandfather turned on a light. The effect was terrifying and "Son" would go on to shape these skulls for the rest of his life, often using actual teeth that he would collect from local dentists. His clay art alone would have made Thomas' career as a folk artist. Many galleries, including those in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. held shows displaying his work.

        in 1981 the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C., held an exhibit displaying the folk art of the American South. The sculptures of James Thomas were a prominent feature of the show. One of the attendees at the show was First Lady Nancy Reagan whom Son would have his photo taken with, which he proudly displayed in his small shotgun home thereafter. This encounter with the First Lady also worked into "Son" being asked to perform at a Republican Party fundraiser in Mississippi in 1983 which featured President Ronald Reagan as the keynote speaker. He was paid $100 for his appearance.

        Son suffered from poor health his entire adult life, which gave him the appearance of being much older than he actually was. Back pains and emphysema were constant plagues. In 1981, he was accidentally shot in the stomach and in 1991 he had surgery for a brain tumor. In May of 1993, he suffered a stroke that would be the fatal event to his unfortunate health. He would never leave the hospital in Greenville, Mississippi. He died there on June 26, 1993 following a heart attack. He was only 66.