By Laura McAlister
Most of Thomas Andrew’s popular elephant paintings have a letter representing a certain football team hidden in them, but one of his newest works is hiding a totally different symbol for a whole other sport.
Thomas of Mountain Brook was commissioned by the state Republican Party to create one of his signature elephant paintings for the 2012 campaign. He ended up doing four elephant paintings for the party – two with the state flag in the background and two with an American flag.
“Initially, I was just going to do one painting with the state flag,” Thomas said. “They were going to turn them into prints and gift them to the Alabama delegates. Then they said, how about creating four – two with the state flag, and two with Old Glory?”
Thomas liked the idea, and so did other high-ranking members of the Republican Party. In fact, GOP leaders liked the paintings so much they invited Thomas to attend the party’s national convention in Tampa, Fla.
Despite the looming threat of Hurricane Isaac, Thomas headed to Florida the week of the convention, when his paintings were sold at auction Aug. 29 at the Taste of Southern Hospitality party. They were a popular item since not only did the elephant represent the Republican Party, but original paintings also had the signature of the top speaker at the convention.
When presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited Birmingham in August, Thomas dropped his paintings off at The Club, where Romney was speaking, for the governor to autograph.
“If we could get Gov. Romney to sign them, I knew it would be really special,” Thomas said. “(The state GOP) said it would be very difficult because of security. They called me in the middle of the day, and said, drive up to The Club for him to sign them.
“There were police and security everywhere. I had to leave them at the front. Then later that evening they called and said they were signed by the governor.”
Thomas didn’t have much time to create the GOP paintings. He said he basically worked day and night to get them done.
The paintings are 36 inches by 48 inches, and just like his popular Crimson Tide elephant paintings, he’s hidden a few symbols in these.
“I took videos while I painted each piece,” Thomas said. “I always add music. I wanted this music to be original and come from Alabama musicians.”
Local bands Act of Congress, The Sleep Design and musician Joseph Baldwin agreed to let Thomas use their music. The videos are now posted on YouTube.
While not all might rally around the Republican Party, Thomas said proceeds from the prints will be used for something most people would get behind – his angel painting ministry.
In addition to elephants, Thomas is also known for his angel paintings. He’s been selling them for years, and they are some of his most sought-after work.
“I’m a full-time artist, so I need to make a living,” he said. “People ask what my inspiration is. I say I have a car payment, a house payment, but I’m also a spiritual person.”
So when an art gallery owner suggested he paint angels, Thomas was willing to give it a try. The first one sold almost immediately, as did the next five or six.
“It was off to the races,” he said. “I was cranking out angels. Then, it was about five years ago, I decided I wanted to do something to give back.”
He sent out a mass email looking for someone who had had a bad year so he could give them one of his angel paintings. The plan was to give away about 10 angel paintings each year.
Thomas said he hopes with proceeds from the GOP prints, he’ll be able to purchase supplies to create even more paintings for his angel giveaway.
“This is something I do all on my dime, and it’s really hard,” he said. “I get over 100 nominations now, and they are all so deserving. I say I do 10 a year, but it’s usually something like 20 or 30.”
Thomas takes nominations from Nov. 1 until Thanksgiving, prints them out and takes them to his family to read while they gather for Thanksgiving.
The week before Christmas, he delivers the paintings to those chosen by his family. He said many times the recipients or a family member are battling cancer.
The first angel giveaway went to Birmingham News writer Kathy Kemp, who lost her longtime battle with cancer in 2010. A painting also went to a former University of Alabama football player who lost his family in a car accident.
“When I send them the painting, I include a note that tells them, hey, I’m an artist from Birmingham, because they go all over,” Thomas said. “I tell them how someone has written on their behalf and felt they could use an angel.
“The really neat part is I’ve gotten notes back – dozens and dozens – saying it came at just the right time, like the angel showed up right when they needed it.”
For more information about Thomas’ angel giveaway or his GOP paintings, visit www.thomasandrewart.com.