"Those We Brought With Us"

A detail from Priscilla Thomas' painting "Those We Brought With Us" is shown. Of the piece, Thomas wrote that it is "A universal story of the love of a father for his child writ large. When Gene Cernan went to the moon he kept daughter Tracey in his heart, and traced her name in the lunar dust." Courtesy Priscilla Thomas

Priscilla Thomas has turned her lifetime fascination with space and aeronautics into a mixed media exhibit that will debut at the Main Street Gallery starting Oct. 1.

“Space and Soul Together” is a collection of about 30 art pieces that Thomas considers a “love song” to her interest in space and exploring the “human emotional side” of space travel, she told the Daily News during a recent phone interview.

“And the art is a little bit different from anything you folks have ever seen here in Ketchikan,” Thomas said.

Thomas moved to Ketchikan just over a year ago, but has been an artist focusing on space for many years.

Her interest in the topic was sparked during childhood and hasn’t waned since.

“I grew up in a family where science was very strongly advocated,” Thomas recalled. “My father worked for the Apollo space program as an engineer. So we were pretty well entrenched in it when I was growing up.”

“When I was growing up, of course, being in the family that I was in, when it came time for me to start saying ‘Oh when I grow up, I want to be,’ you can imagine I say ‘an astronaut,’” she continued. “And of course, it was awesome … my formative years were during the Apollo program. So when I got into high school and it was time to start talking to the guidance counselor, so he could set you up with the courses and the vision for your academic future, I said, ‘Well, I want to be an astronaut.”

But, Thomas said that the counselor’s response “put a sour taste in my mouth.”

“The answer was, ‘Well, you need to figure something else out because women don’t become astronauts,’” she finished.

Thomas then joined the U.S. Air Force, took a variety of engineering courses during her college career and worked a “patchwork of other jobs.”

“But when I really started being able to get some traction under me in this science-art field was when I started working at a newspaper and I was able to start attending rocket launches and the open houses,” she recalled. “And that started giving me a lot of material.”

The creations included in “Space and Soul Together” are mixed media, and sometimes even include pieces of spacecraft that Thomas has been given during tours she has attended. Other pieces include small samples of Mars dust. The exhibit also will be the first public showing of “Alaska Rises,” a piece depicting the launch of a rocket from Alaska’s Pacific Spaceport.

It can take months to complete a single piece, according to Thomas, who described herself as a “control freak.”

The artist explained that her exhibit is “retrospective.”

“So you see where I started and the different evolutions of my work, the beginning pieces are all graphite pencil type pieces,” Thomas said. “So it’s all black and white and I”m not sure why, but for some reason having actual color in the picture was a little confusing for me because it adds a third dimension that I found very difficult to work with.”

The next stage of her work was to add color, often through digital computer programs, and she soon became more comfortable loosening her strokes on the page, too.

“I would start with doing work in a computer art program, get it the way I wanted it, at least to a degree, then print out that and start building on that with … oils, oil paints and some pastel pencils,” Thomas explained.

Thomas also is scheduled to give an artist’s presentation from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Oct. 9, following the opening of the exhibit on Oct. 1 (which includes a reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., during the ARTober Art Walk).

“My presentation is not going to be the standard ‘Oh, and this is how I paint,’ that kind of demonstration,” Thomas said. “What I want to do is share with the young people, students, young adults, information about the possibilities of a career in space art. A lot of people think, well, either you’re a geeky science kind of person, or you’re an art person. And for those of us who kind of like both,  it’s counter-intuitive to think that there are potential career paths for that. A lot of people don’t realize that there are positions within NASA for artists. There’s a lot of ways to love science, be in involved in science and actually being an artist.”

Thomas also plans to distribute “takeaway sheets” to participants at her presentation.

The sheets serve as “Something that they can hold and take with them, because the paintings themselves, I do love them, but I think there’ll be even more meaningful if they understand the backstories behind them,” she explained.

More information about the ARTober Art Walk can be found at www.ketchikanarts.org.