Famed woodcarver Lloyd H. Thomas
Today my thoughts are about a long-time friend and co-worker for more than 30 years, and the most humble artisan, I have ever known.
Lloyd Hansen Thomas was born in Camden on Sept. 29, 1910, the son of Frederick F. and Annie Richards Thomas. He graduated from Camden High School and worked in his father’s antique shop. It was there that his father noticed Lloyd’s talent, not only as an artist with a brush but also with a knife or chisel.
His subjects were at first ships or fish that he carved on panels of wood. Lloyd also decorated seamens' chests by carving old sailing ships on them. Unlike most artists, he didn’t need to look for subjects, but grew up in “Camden by the Sea” and discovered the beauty of nature in the outdoors by hunting and fishing when still a boy. His relief carvings were better than a painting, because they were cleverly wrought out of one piece of wood in bas relief and painted in the most natural and convincing manner. They were accurate in detail and a mirror of the day when silver ships sailed the Seven Seas. The more he did the better they became. A model of the famous Rockland-built clipper ship, "Red Jacket," went to President Roosevelt at the White House. Many of the Camden and Rockport “summer people” bought his work immediately. The high relief carving of another clipper ship, "Lightning," went on display in a store in Monument Square, so Portland could enjoy the beautiful work. It was amazing that no one taught Lloyd to carve or paint or anything about the old sailing ships.
One was created for Maurice Bowers, a Portland investment dealer, and described as follows: “In its four by five foot frame, the ship comes tripping across white capped seas, with all her washing out – her white sails swollen with wind - and the wave under her graceful forefoot froths and foams before her swift advance.” Lloyd Thomas spent about two years making it.
At that time Lloyd was 28 years old. He had married Doris Milliken and they had two daughters, Carole and Julia.
His father Fred had some antique oval frames in his shop. They did not seem to be selling, so he asked his son to make carvings to fit the frames, which he did and they certainly sold. When a customer wanted a fish carved, Lloyd went fishing at Megunticook Lake, hauled in one and then looked at it and carved and painted it on a wooden panel.
His carvings would appear many years later in magazines for sale, and at very high prices. Lloyd would always say,”That shouldn’t be worth that much money!”
His father, Fred F. Thomas, passed away in his Antique Shop and was mourned by his family and the whole community. He had had several businesses in town and was well-liked by all. Besides Lloyd, he had another son, D. Ferris Thomas of Boston, and a daughter, Josephine Perry of Rockland. His brothers were J. Frank Thomas of Camden and Ernest of Florida. Frank’s sisters were Mrs. Sidney Andrews of West Rockport, Mrs. Huse Richards of Rockport and Mrs. Roland Crockett of Rockport.
Lloyd went to work at Camden Shipbuilding & Marine Railways Co. during World War II, when they were building minesweepers, troop transports, rescue salvage tugs and barges for the war effort. After the war he worked for Camden Shipbuilding Co., which later became Wayfarer Marine. He was a marine cabinet builder and also crafted wooden flagstaffs and boat hooks for yachts. He was a noted woodcarver of eagles, to hang on the transom of yachts. He continued his work of ships, and wildlife. One of his relief carvings hangs in Camden Public Library in the Reading Room.
Lloyd Hansen Thomas died at the age of 80 on Oct. 18, 1990. Surviving at the time were his daughter Carole Hardy of Lincolnville; 10 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. His wife predeceased him in 1974 and his daughter Julia Bennett died in 1988.
Former shipyard owner William Peterson wrote: ”Lloyd was one of the yard’s principal joiners, the best of the best on the eastern seaboard. Although Lloyd was an excellent yacht joiner, he was much more than a skilled craftsman. Lloyd, first of all was a gentleman, highly principled, modest and forthright. He was an artist who worked in several media. As a wood sculptor Lloyd carved classic eagles, many of which can be seen, not only in the United States but in Brazil, in Japan and in Europe. When it came to gilding, he was one of the best.”
Co-worker Richard Meservey, said: "I was assigned a bench next to Lloyd for 15 years. It was my privilege to have worked beside him, to have learned from him, and to call him friend.”
All of us, who worked with Lloyd H. Thomas, felt blessed to have known the man.
Barbara Dyer is the official town historian for Camden.