Most people, whether poker fans or not, are familiar with the classic paintings collectively referred to as “Dogs Playing Poker.” The series of sixteen oil paintings was originally commissioned in 1903 by a company that wanted to advertise cigars. C.M. Coolidge, the artist, had no idea how popular they would become for so many years.
Over a century later, poker comes into play again as artist Andy Thomas of Carthage, Missouri incorporates the game into his works featuring past presidents of the United States. The two paintings are jointly referred to as “Big Dawgs Playing Poker,” a take on the Coolidge series of old.
While many of Thomas’ paintings feature Western and Civil War themes, his passion for history in general comes through in his numerous works of art. A study of his pieces shows that he has the ability to truly capture the feel of the era featured in each painting, whether it is a draw poker game at an old Western saloon or the intense action at the Battle of Saratoga. Each of his works displays the reason that Thomas is referred to as the “Storyteller.”
Andy Thomas graduated Magna Cum Laude from Missouri Southern State University in 1981 with a degree in marketing management, and then entered the corporate world while harboring his part-time passion for art. Primarily self-taught, he quietly built his studio and crafted paintings to fill it before quitting his job at Leggett & Platt, Inc. ten years later to pursue his dreams of being a full-time artist.
He began his artistic career in the fall of 1991 from his studio in Carthage, and his works quickly became widely acclaimed and sought after by private and corporate collectors nationwide. His Battle of Carthage painting even hangs in the Civil War Museum in his hometown, other paintings are displayed in the Pearce Western Art Museum and the Iowa State Historical Museum, and his works have been featured in magazine articles, National Park Service brochures, and educational books.
The latest paintings, which were unveiled in September of 2007 at a national dealer convention in Atlanta, Georgia, were inspired partially by a brainstorming session between Thomas and Larry Smith, CEP and President of Somerset Fine Arts, a Texas-based company that serves as the distributor of Thomas’ works to art dealers throughout the country. As they discussed the political season that is nearly in full swing with the candidates for the office of the presidency one year away, they easily became intrigued by the idea of presidents sitting around a poker table.
Thomas decided to separate past presidents into two paintings – Republicans and Democrats. “Grand Ol’ Gang” would feature Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. “True Blues” would show Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.
The artist added features to each painting that illustrated the political party represented by each. He used the respective political logos on the backs of the playing cards, the head of the cane held by Andrew Jackson was a donkey, along with various other subtleties incorporated into each work. And as he researched each president’s personality before painting them, he found that he became fond of each one of them for different reasons.
Thomas draws inspiration mainly from memories and his love of American history. And he states on his website, “I always remember why I do paintings or drawings when I see great work I admire and my stomach swirls. I suppose my desire to create is funneled into the area I most admire… painting realism.”
The September trade show that featured the two paintings was a success. Smith told The Joplin Globe, “They’re the hottest-selling product some of our dealers have had in several years… The artist brings something that surpasses a concept. Andy made studies of the presidents, and he put a lot of what I call ‘activity for the eye’ into the images that make them a lot of fun.”
The “Big Dawgs Playing Poker” were shipped to the Greenhouse Gallery in San Antonio, Texas this month where the paintings will be displayed and offered for sale in early 2008. Prints are now being sold for as little as $150 at various art shows and galleries, and through Thomas’ website, www.AndyThomas.com .