"Being a native of the head of the holler in Magoffin County Kentucky was an asset for me." Tom grew up among the sights and sounds of rural Appalachia and feels that he has been greatly influenced by these childhood experiences.
"When I was a child, every member of the family
had chores. Get in the kindlin' and coal, milk the cow, slop the hogs, build a fire, or draw water
were just a few of the tasks we seven children had to do. I hated babysitting and cleaning out the
barn worst of all."
Whitaker's work has been exhibited in numerous shows and galleries. People from all walks of life and from all around the world collect his paintings. They appreciate the work not only because it is pretty but also because it has a sensitivity and realness. Whitaker has been a major influence on Eastern Kentucky's perception of art. In his classes at the college and in the workshops that he presents around the state, Tom stresses the importance of being one's self, rather than relying on public opinion. "Listen to the inner self," proclaims Whitaker, and he follows his advice by producing highly individual art works.
Whitaker also has other talents that give groups and organizations a special delight. He is a talented singer and entertainer. He can satisfy your requests not only with a guitar or mandolin, but also with his original compositions. He will often punctuate his verses with a mountain yell as he urges one and all to join in on the chorus. Whitaker brings to his singing, as he does his art, a cunning sense of humor and knowledge of human nature.
Tom's gallery is a cross between an abandoned warehouse and art museum. It is organized chaos at an old service station that serves as his studio. On the walls hang many of his original watercolors and sketches. Staring back at the viewer is a Hampshire Hog or the careworn face of an elderly man or woman, and many colorful landscapes. Strewn about the floor or stacked in the corner are materials he uses in framing.
Books on every conceivable subject are stacked and piled about in every nook and cranny. Folk artist Tim Sizemore once said "Tom's Gallery is fine, but be careful and don't get snake bit."If you visit the Parkway Gallery about ten miles from Prestonsburg, you may find the proprietor, Tom J. Whitaker, but it is likely you will encounter a sign stating "Gone to the bushes to paint" for at no time is Whitaker happier than when he is by a moss covered tree, or in the middle of a briar patch.
Tom Whitaker is a two-sided coin. At times he is the stereotypical artist who moves easily in elite social circles, but don't be misled by his smooth manners and winning charm. Tom is the artist from whom springs art that expresses the soul of the common man. Whitaker's strength lies in the simplicity of his subjects and his sensitive treatment of everyday life in Appalachia.
Who is this Bohemian or saint that Kentucky poet Al Stewart called "America's Greatest Appalachian Artist"? The artwork and music of Tom J. Whitaker will help answer this question.