R. Thomas Holder, 71, Carroll artist and teacher, Korean War veteran

December 15, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

R. Thomas Holder, a Carroll County artist and teacher whose work ranged from abstract paintings to portraits and a restaurant chalkboard that he enlivened with whimsical drawings, died of prostate cancer Friday at his Westminster home. He was 71.

Mr. Holder was born and raised in Greenville, S.C., and served in the Army during the Korean War.

He earned his bachelor's degree from Furman University in 1964, a master's degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a second master's degree in education from Coppin State College in 1971.

He moved to Baltimore in 1964 and took a job as a commercial artist for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. The next year he took a teaching position at the old Montrose School for Girls in Reisterstown.

From 1975 until the late 1980s, Mr. Holder taught children and adolescent students at Springfield Hospital Center's Muncie Center.

"He always wanted to teach special-education students because he was very sensitive to them and their needs," said Cynthia A. Compton, a longtime friend. "He was a gentle spirit who treated all people, no matter if they were county commissioners or street people, with the same respect."

A working artist, Mr. Holder lived and worked in a sparsely furnished studio on West Main Street in Westminster. During the 1970s, he was curator at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

"He really used art to arrive at the pressing questions in his life," said Susan Williamson, visual arts coordinator for the Carroll County Arts Council. "And his favorite artists were the American Abstract Expressionists of the 1930s and 1940s like Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, who lived in New Windsor, and Robert Motherwell."

"He was a very important creative force in the community and he enjoyed sharing his love of art," said Joyce Muller, assistant vice president for communications and marketing at McDaniel College in Westminster.

Mr. Holder, who liked eating breakfast across the street from his apartment-studio at Harry's Main Street Grille in Westminster, interjected a little humor into the daily lives of local residents when in 2000 he began drawing on a chalkboard mural that lined the restaurant's vestibule wall.

His topical drawings, done with colored chalk, centered around life, people and events that transpired in Westminster.

Subject matter ranged from the Ravens and coach Brian Billick when the team was in town for summer training camp, the McDaniel College football team, local businesspeople, or special murals centering around holidays.

Calling his chalkboard drawings "soulscapes," he always managed to work the likeness of A. Harry Sirinakis, the restaurant's owner, in somewhere.

"One of my favorites was last year's Christmas drawing that showed a village and me sliding down a mountain of coleslaw while Santa's helpers build hot dog toys for presents," said Mr. Sirinakis.

It took a little persuading to get Mr. Holder to do the chalkboard drawings.

"He used to say, `I have a master's degree in art, but I'll only be known for my chalkboard art at Harry's for all eternity,'" Mr. Sirinakis said.

Still, the restaurant owner said, "I think he liked the notoriety, even though he never let on. It really was a neat thing."

During a recent hospitalization, Mr. Holder kept busy sketching from his bed.

"He continued painting until the end of his life. An unfinished abstract painting was on his easel at his death," Ms. Compton said.

Mr. Holder's work had been exhibited locally, including at the Carroll Arts Center on West Main Street in Westminster.

"We are leaving on an electric candle for Tom. That way his presence will still be in the gallery," Mrs. Williamson said.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster.

Mr. Holder is survived by three sons, Timothy N. Holder of Nashville, Tenn., Mark T. Holder of Ocean City and Jon A. Holder of San Clemente, Calif.; two sisters, Lucia Lawson of Nashville and Peggy Caldwell of Daytona Beach, Fla.; and several nieces and nephews. His marriage to the former Jane Waskey ended in divorce.

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