Mohawk Artist Reflects on Life, Teaches Grandson

Photo by Alex Hamer / Mohawk artist Tracy Thomas and 12-year-old grandson Franklyn Williams display their art.

Mohawk Artist Passes Skills to Next Generation.

Tracy Thomas, Mohawk, considers himself a portrait artist first, but his talent reaches across mediums like illustrations, mosaics, beading and pointillism. His talent was evident early in his life and he was placed in advanced art classes in high school. After briefly attending Syracuse University in upstate New York, Thomas decided that he wanted to travel more and he did so in the 1970s with the Indian Community Caravan.

In 1984, Thomas participated in and completed the Longest Run, which started on the Onondaga Nation. The longest run would cross 16 states and go for 7,000 miles ending in Los Angles, California. It was during this run that Thomas would find himself at Standing Rock. Thomas told ICMN that during their stop at Standing Rock they smoked the canupa (the sacred pipe) with an elder and was given a blessing to help them through their difficult run.

During this era of his life, Thomas’ art was used for covers of the now defunct Akwesasne Notes, which was a journal for Native people. Thomas has had four pictures about the founding of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy featured on Sweden National Television. Amnesty International also used his logo design for their Year of the Indigenous People campaign in the early 1990s.

Photo by Alex Hamer / Mohawk artist Tracy Thomas’ logo used by Amnesty International.

Today, Thomas enjoys creating art, organizing art shows and teaching his grandson Franklyn Williams, Oneida, his techniques and approach to creativity. “I cannot force Franklyn to learn our ways, all I can do is expose him to them,” Thomas told ICMN. “What he does with the teachings is up to him.”

ICMN asked Franklyn, 12, what he would like to learn with his time spent with his grandfather. “To be a good artist,” he replied. Franklyn has taken to wood burning and has already sold a couple of pieces.

Photo by Alex Hamer / Franklyn Williams, 12, works on his wood burning art. His grandfather, Mohawk artist Tracey Thomas is teaching him.

Thomas has achieved all of this despite being born without hands. “I don’t see it as a disability, more an inconvenience.” When he was younger he didn’t like wearing prosthesis. Thomas said there was never an issue with his condition from anyone in his community. He was always accepted, the only people who gave him a hard time were from outside the Native community.

“I played football after school with my friends and played lacrosse until I was a teenager.” Thomas showed many people that despite his “inconvenience” that a good life with positive contributions is an attainable possibility.

Photo by Alex Hamer / Mohawk artist Tracy Thomas doing beadwork at home.

Photo by Alex Hamer / Mohawk artist Tracy Thomas works on a portrait of a lacrosse player.

Photo by Alex Hamer / Wooden bowl mosaic created by Mohawk artist Tracy Thomas.