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Thorns' impression everlasting





He was a historian. He was a scholar. He was an artist -- an artist who left a legacy.

Local artist John Thorns died Tuesday at 88.

Thorns moved to Hays from El Dorado with his family in 1944 and enrolled at Fort Hays State University in the fall. But he was drafted into the U.S. Navy a few months later. He was discharged in 1946.

In 1952, he married Catherine Anne Gallagher -- the same year he received his master's degree.

He returned to FHSU to teach design, drawing, architectural design and art history in 1954.

Thorns met Mark Hantla, owner of Madd Matter Frame Shop & Gallery, in a class he was teaching nearly 40 years ago.

"We spent so much time together working on projects and art," Hantla said. "We talked about life, business, art, family and many, many different things. When John was failing, he said to me, 'You know, Mark. I think we've talked about just about everything.' I hold those conversations as being important and special."

Madd Matter Frame Shop & Gallery was Thorns' exclusive gallery and always was featured during gallery walks.

"His philosophy, his attitudes were closely observed by me because we spent so much time together," Hantla said. "His presence, support and attitude about life will be missed. He will definitely be on my mind."

In 1973, Thorns was promoted to art department chairman. He retired in 1990, but continued to be actively involved in the university.

"He brought the same finesse to the development within the university," said Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council. "John has always been a wonderful bridge across the arts in this community because of his passion and willingness to be involved."

Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art was built in 1981 and was renamed in 1987 after him and previous art department chairman Joel Moss.

"He was very active in his dream of having an art museum/gallery at FHSU," said Lee Powers, chairman of the art department. "He had a big impact on hundred and hundreds, if not thousands, of students."

"We have grown the department partly because of his groundwork," Powers said. "I cherish the memory of all that he is to this department. He set a wonderful example of how to be an artist, a manager and, most importantly, a human being."

Thorns and Catherine had two daughters, Karen and Jennifer.

Catherine committed suicide in 1958.

"He certainly had some significant moments in his life where he would have been justified in not being the man he was," Meder said. "But that's not who he was. He had a sense of perseverance and a belief in the world being good."

His daughter, Jennifer, died in a traffic accident in 1983.

"Despite his own personal losses, he had strong faith and was an incredible human," said Ann Leiker, executive director of the Center for Life Experiences at First Presbyterian Church. "The two losses were incredibly deep for him, and he walked through a journey of grief and loss and came out stronger and able to reach out to other people."

He was a past president and founder of Hays Arts Council.

"In the history of the Hays Arts Council, he was there from the very beginning," Meder said. "He was president of the board, participated in special projects and fundraisers. He was very integral to the vitality of this organization."

Meder had known Thorns for more than 20 years.

"It's the conversations sitting in my office," she said, "nothing gave me more joy and satisfaction than when we were discussing art -- to know John was proud of what was transpiring with the HAC, and to know he was proud of something I may have been responsible for in my role as director."

Thorns served as the architectural designer for First Presbyterian Church, where he actively was involved in the Center for Life Experiences, specifically Healing After Loss of Suicide.

"He joined HALOS because he knew what it was like and wanted to help others survive a tragic loss and come out on the other side stronger," Leiker said. "He is still an inspiration for his faith, and the strength of his faith, overcoming difficulties and moving forward with dignity, humor and love."

Leiker knew Thorns for more than 45 years. Her father, John Gustad, was president of FHSU from 1969 to 1975.

"My dad admired John so much," she said. "John had such a calm, gentle, caring manner. He had such a love for human beings and, despite all the tragedies, he survived. I can still hear his laugh and see his smile and sparkling eyes."

Thorns was an art consultant for the Hadley Foundation Art Collection at Hays Medical Center.

"He taught me a lot about the importance of art in our lives," said Jo Murphy, member of the visual arts committee at HaysMed. "It had a huge impact on the hospital because it was his direction and his passion to include art in the design of the additions and construction as they were being planned. The art enhances the ambiance and allows for therapeutic value and a healing environment."

The collection is scattered throughout HaysMed.

"All the art is there because of John's leadership," Meder said. "It makes the medical center not only a place of beauty, but a place of meditation, peace and joy. That's how John saw it. It's a one-of-a-kind collection."

Funeral services will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church.

"Everywhere you go in Hays," Leiker said, "I know I'm going to see things that will remind me of how John made such an impact in this community. We are so blessed to have had him here with us."