Dorothy Thurman: Marine Artist & Wildlife Artist

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Blvd., Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
(310) 821-9045
©November 11, 2010

The rediscovery of Dorothy Thurman as a marine artist and wildlife artist has been uniquely fascinating and magnificent by this scientist and naturalist. The history of marine art and wildlife art has been overlooked. The paintings by Dorothy Thurman from 1960, published in 1961, now 50 years ago, are wonderfully displayed in a book in the Ballona Institute library archives and entitled: Common Native Animals. The book was written primarily by Matthew Vessel, a professor at what was then known as San Jose State College. Doctor Matthew Vessel knew that to have Dorothy's marine wildlife paintings in his book would be an invaluable contribution. The focus of this research relates to Matthew J. Vessel and his recognition of Dorothy Thurman. Her paintings depict wetland habitats, desert habitats, forest habitats, and prairie meadow habitats of the United States.

Dorothy Thurman painted five marine seascapes and wildlife landscapes in 1960, 50 years ago, published in 1961 in a book entitled: Common Native Animals. One of her paintings is a marine tide pool seascape which shows both intertidal invertebrate animals as well as marine algae. For example, coralline algae is nicely painted in the foreground of a marine seascape. Her marine seascapes and wildlife landscape painting make this author certain that Dorothy Thurman believed in the values of nature and wildlife to American society. And I see clearly that Dorothy Thurman embraced and supported the wonderful science of ecology and natural history, including sustainability and ecosystems of planet Earth.
The results of this artistic research combined with environmental history research led to the discovery of the unique art of Dorothy Thurman and the relationship with Matthew Vessel. Mrs. Thurman completed 8 paintings to accompany Matthew Vessel's book, two were marine seascapes, one freshwater landscape, one desert landscape, one meadow-prairie landscape, and three woodland-forest landscapes, yet all of them collectively are pure wildlife landscapes.
As far as I can discern at this time, no one, until now, has recognized the important contribution of Mrs. Dorothy Thurman to the field of nature education in the California School System. We hope that this brief article sheds light and awareness and beauty of the study of nature through creative expression, such as painting wildlife and marine life. The knowledge that the very fine professor at San Jose State University collaborated with Dorothy Thurman speaks volumes of both of them. For example, simply note the following brief biographical statement of an obituary from the official documents of San Jose State University:

"Matthew F. Vessel, at age 95, on Oct.15, 2007. Vessel began his career as a professor of natural history and biology at San Josť State in 1940 and retired in 1980 as the associate dean of the then-School of Science. He was also chair of the science education department at San Josť State and gave biweekly radio broadcasts on science topics for San Mateo schools."

And finally, note the brief biography in Wong and Vessel (1970:40) that was found at the back of a children biography on wetlands, particularly "cattail" wetlands:

"Matthew F. Vessel, Associate Dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics of San Jose State College, is an author, editor, and consultant, in science and education. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. An active member of many professional science and education societies, D.r Vessel attended St. Cloud Teachers College and the University of Minnesota. He holds the Ph.D from Cornell University."

Wong, Herbert H., and Matthew F. Vessel. 1970. Where Can Cattails Grow? Addison-Wesley. 40p.
Vessel, M.F. and E.J. Harrington. 1961. Common Native Animals. Chandler Publishing Company. Scranton, Pennsylvania. 182 pages.
Vessel, M.F. and H.H. Wong. 1987. Natural History of Vacant Lots. UC Press, Berkeley. California Natural History Guides # 50.