City Hall Display Features Drawings by Late F.C. Man

0201-023On March 23, 2003, Norma Hickman lost her husband of 56 years, Thomas. He was 91 years old. Now, she’s sharing the product of his beloved hobby with the people of Falls Church.

0201-021On March 23, 2003, Norma Hickman lost her husband of 56 years, Thomas. He was 91 years old. Now, she’s sharing the product of his beloved hobby with the people of Falls Church.

A collection of Thomas Hickman’s still life charcoal drawings opened in City Hall on Jan. 15. The display in the corridors of the building will be available for public viewing through March 1.

After her husband’s death, Norma had his charcoal drawings framed for fear of losing them.

“The only way I thought I could keep them so that they wouldn’t deteriorate was to have them all framed,” Norma said. “They’ve been in a closet ever since.”

That is, until her niece helped her go through the drawings with the hopes of finding some place to put them on display. Luckily for the two, their first stop proved fruitful, as the drawings got the attention of City Treasurer Cathy Kaye, who is also the treasurer of Falls Church Arts.

“The first place we went to was over to Falls Church City Hall, and she was very interested in them, so that’s where they are now,” Norma said.

“They are very well done, technically,” said Kaye. “Charcoal drawing is an older style, and I think that they are very attractive, and they are very well presented.”

The drawings are on display as part of Gallery Without Walls, a program that allows businesses and municipal offices to sign up to host works by local artists, for sale or for display, on their walls. Falls Church City Hall has been involved for the past year and a half, and in that time has hosted the works of a number of local artists.

“The employees enjoy it greatly,” Kaye said. “The staff gets the benefit of having this wonderful art everywhere, and all different types of art – paintings, sculpture, photography – any kind of different medium is accepted.”

While his work has gained some posthumous recognition, Thomas did not make art his profession. Thomas had a decades-long career with D.C. Transit, manning an emergency truck that returned streetcars to their tracks back when the streetcars were the popular mode of transportation around Washington, D.C. The streetcar system was discontinued in 1962.

“When they took the streetcars off, he retired,” Norma said.

Retirement left Thomas with the time to pursue a passion for drawing that Norma says he had since his school days.

“He had a lot of time on his hands, so he would go downstairs to the basement, set up, and he would sit there until he was finished, and he had a big tablet full of drawings,” Norma said.

Norma, who moved to Washington, D.C. shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, had a long career in government work and devoted many decades to the U.S. Department of Commerce. She met Thomas through mutual friends, and the duo kindled a romance over dates in the city. They often roller skated, which Norma said was quite a popular activity for people during their courtship.

Norma and Thomas were married March 15, 1947, and in 1956 decided to leave behind the big city life to buy a $15,000, three-bedroom home in Falls Church, near Seven Corners. Norma lives there to this day.

She remembers Thomas most for his sense of humor.

“He was funny,” Norma said. “He’d say some very funny things that would keep us laughing all day long.” Through his paintings, Norma is reminded of moments spent with her husband and how they collected the items he would use in his still life drawings.

“Each one is a story,” Norma said.

She said that while her husband amassed quite a collection of impressive work, he was never boastful of what he created.

“I thought a lot of his drawings, but he was a very bashful person, and when people would come and want to see them, he’d say ‘oh, people don’t want to see those things,'” Norma said.

She said that the interest in displaying his work would probably come as a surprise to her late husband.

“He would be shocked, he really would,” Norma said. “This is something he just did for pleasure. He’d bring out a tablet and draw, say, a rabbit or something. It was just a talent he had that most people don’t have. I think he’d be pretty proud that they are up for people to see. If he had gone to school – well, he was good anyway, but – he would have been a famous painter, but he never went to any school for this.”

Thomas did not produce only the charcoal drawings that are currently on display. He started out as an oil painter, turning to flowers and especially sunflowers as his favorite subjects. For those, however, Norma has a purpose in mind.

“I’ve got, for each grandchild, a beautiful oil painting of flowers that they’re going to get eventually,” she said of her three grandchildren, who live in Fairfax with her son and his wife.

As for the charcoal drawings, Norma has no intention of putting them back in the closet after they come down from the City Hall Display in March.

“We’re going to try and find another place if they would be interested in displaying them,” she said. “I don’t want to sell them yet, I want to keep them in a package.”

Thomas Hickman’s still life charcoal drawings are on display in the G level of Falls Church City Hall, 300 Park Ave., Falls Church.