By: Suzanne Vanderhoef
Solomon Thurman was born in the old St. Mary’s Infirmary, a segregated hospital on Papin and 14th Streets for African Americans in downtown St. Louis. He came from a musical family. His father was a well-regarded harmonica player who would play with lots of local performers, but Solomon says his talent came from a different source.
“I was born with an interest in art,” he explains. “I didn’t know how to deal with it, but my father saw something in me to see that I needed training, and when I was 8-years old he enrolled me in The People’s Art Center.”
That early training clearly sparked something in Solomon. For more than three decades after taking that first class he has been bringing contemporary history and his community to life through his paintings.
Solomon’s best-known work is the Black Americans in Flight 51-foot mural at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which he co-created in 1990 with his mentor, the late Spencer Taylor. But since then, he has forged his own path, depicting everything from the story of a teenage slave named Celia to a gospel choir in church to a collection of paintings of bird houses from a friend’s property.
Because of the scope and diversity of his work, Solomon was named the Missouri Arts Council’s 2018 Individual Artist honoree, the state’s highest honor in the arts.