THOMAS DONALD KOWAL (Born Chicago, 1934)
Thomas Donald Kowal was born in 1934 in Chicago Illinois (his birth name: Thomas Donald Kowalski). His mother (Amanda) was of Polish & Russian extraction and came to America at the age of 11 in the early or mid 1900's. His father (Tony) was born in the US from a large Polish family, and left home with a brother at age 14, eventually to work in the coal mines and lumber camps in North Dakota. Tony met Amanda in 1925. They then married and moved to Chicago and soon started their family, Alice and Tom.
When Tom was 3 years old he began drawing cars, trains and people on brown paper grocery bags. Alice and her girlfriends were amazed at little Tom's perception and drawing ability. There was little doubt the shape that was already being formed in the life of Thomas Donald Kowalski.
In 1940 at age 6, his beloved, warm and protective mother passed away from a fatal heart attack on a warm and rainy night in a school yard, while walking home from a visit with her sister. The little family was devastated. Alice soon married, and Tom and his father moved from their 1-room transient apartment, to a 5-room apartment in Logan Square Chicago. Tom's father was a truck driver squeezing out a salary that kept the monthly rent paid, and food on the table, however eating at the corner restaurant was pretty regular. Many times Tom ate dinner at the neighbor’s home, for which his dad paid a weekly offering. That didn't last long. Tom didn't like it, so it was back to the restaurant. There was at one time a petition going around trying to put Tom into a foster home. However Tony was a terrific father. There wasn’t a father alive who took better care of his son than Tony (a great father and son relationship). Tony was a raw boned hulk of a man with enormous big thick hands and the heart of a lamb. On Sunday's, Tony took Tom everywhere. He was the most wonderful father a boy could have. Even Tom's young friends admired Tom's "Dad".
Tom attended Darwin grammar school, only a block away. It was surrounded by a largely Jewish community and wonderful families and school mates. It was soon realized by the school faculty that Thomas Donald Kowalski was some kind of artist. He won several city and state art awards, and also became the schools top athlete in touch football, baseball and basketball (Tom the athlete, Tom the artist). He graduated Darwin "most popular". After graduation from Darwin, he attended Lane Tech High School. Sports, baseball and physical fitness continued to play a big role in his life. However, winning more awards in art, and winning two scholarships upon graduation, one to the Art Institute, and one to the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. Tom took the 1-year scholarship to the Art Institute. He attended the Art Institute for 1 ½ years, but because of financial difficulties (traveling expenses, art supplies, food and working part time-time after school at Marshall Field) the expenses still were too hard to overcome. Tom’s father had just re-married and the small apartment was not quite accommodating for the new wife, and the weekly rent she now demanded from him was just too much.
Tom volunteered in the army in 1954. While serving his 2 year term, he painted a 40’ x 12’ mural of a combat army scene over the doorway at the NCO club. The painting was completed in 5 grueling weeks. Tom said “I didn’t like it”. But everybody else did. After his 2 year stint, he worked for several top studios as an apprentice. After becoming a staff artist at Vogue Wright Studios, he married and had 2 wonderful children. First Dean, and then (a year and a half later) little Mandi. The marriage lasted 10 years, and he was once again on his own. "Leaving my two kids was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do." But, without fail, he saw Dean and Mandi every single weekend and spent quality time with his two wonderful young children. "I remember how my Dad treated me, and I never wanted to fail my kids."
In 1970 Tom met Diana, the new love in his life. Diana quickly became another "Mom" to the kids, and in 1973 they were married. Thomas Donald Kowalski now became "Tom Kowal" with the name change. "I knew it would offend some people, but really, professionally speaking, it made a lot of sense." Tom worked for several studios and in 1979 broke out on his own as a freelance illustrator/designer. "As it turned out, it was a very successful move, but not as glamorous as many people think." He put in a lot of hours working out of his home evenings and weekends. Reaching deadlines and compromising over fees can many times be very frustrating. Pleasing the client was however very imperative and Tom soon had quite a few accounts, some local studios and agencies with some very well-known national products. Diana took care of all the book work. They were a great team.
After working 30 years as a freelancer, Tom retired. They moved to Florida. Unimpressed and misinformed about Florida living, they moved back to Chicago. "We moved back to where we felt we belonged." To the kind of places and people they were more in tune with. "I miss city life, the old buildings, the L-tracks, the different ethnicities and restaurants, and yes, even some of the dirty city streets." At age 68, he started painting again, this time with: his own concepts and thoughts, his own values and ideas, his own philosophy and emotional spirit. However "Over the years, I have developed a wide variety of styles and techniques, there are images and facets of life and nature, it sometimes becomes confusing to me what direction I want to go." It all depends on what one's aim is. If its financial success you wish to obtain, you may take a path of subject matter that is more acceptable to the masses. For instance, flowers, seascapes, dogs, cats, sweet children, sunsets, etc.. That is not to say that painting what is in your soul will not bring you success. Subject matter is very important. Maybe you could care less if you ever sell a single piece. What you paint and communicate is what and who you are, what your life has been about. There are many many extremely talented artists whose work you may never see and of whom you will never know their name. Personally, I can appreciate all forms of visual art, Pop-art, expressionism, surrealism, da-da-do-do-ka-ka or whatever. I have admired some really original and interesting concepts that were masterfully created (realistically or not). Where I will be coming from, will be the life experiences that I have felt, witnessed and lived. The subject matter will not necessarily be original, and perhaps have been deployed a thousand times. But these will be of my own feelings. Maybe they’re sometimes a little dreary or perhaps a little sad, but kind and compassionate, and close to my life experiences. This may sound somewhat a little "corny" or mellow-dramatic, but my work will be my story. If there is time for me in the future, I may turn to splashes of color, spontaneous vibrant strokes of the brush. It'll be fun! I'll have to rely on my young, avant-garde, and sometimes blue sense of humor. Some of this can be seen in my cartoons (some of it which will never be seen except by me).
On another subject pertaining to my life, discussions and conversations regarding religion and the belief in God have always interested me. I am not an atheist, but the God figure with robe and staff pondering whether we go to hell or heaven, I cannot buy, along with many other stereotypical concepts. I do believe in some form of spiritual hereafter, where perhaps science and the truth about the universe will be unfolded to us. As for now, I have (and have had) a great life. I wouldn't trade it for anyone or anything. I feel I have been gifted with many special abilities, and gifted with my two exceptional children and my wonderful wife Diana. Love and compassion be our motto. Everyday feels like a new start, fresh ideas, new concepts and visions. I'm going to need more time, much more time.