Interpretations in black and white: Perham artist displays work at library

Born and raised in Perham, Thomas Pettit has traveled all over the world. Recently, his ink artwork was displayed at the Perham Area Public Library.

Thomas Pettit started painting when he was 12 years old and still creates art today.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
This art piece depicts aquatic life, drawn in technical pen on paper by Thomas Pettit, and is on display in the Perham Area Public Library.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

PERHAM — Some people see art in what appears to be ordinary everyday life, and Perham's Thomas Pettit just so happens to be one of those people. In an exhibit currently on display at the Perham Area Public Library, Pettit's pen and ink artwork depicts what he calls a "series of interpretations in black and white, focusing on elements of one's life in relation to color."

"It's all about life experiences or situations," Pettit explained. "Situations that people find themselves in, and they don't think about it or react to it until later on in life — how you change to shape your own life."

One piece depicts a casino, one depicts a circus and another depicts a choir: all mundane activities or events people may participate in on a regular day. When we make choices about our lives in the moment, Pettit explained, these choices are guided by a sense of urgency or haphazardness.

When you look back on your choices in your twilight years, they're colored and remembered differently. A choice looked back on fondly may be vivid and bright. Someone who lives in regret may look back on their memories in black and white.

Pettit's library exhibit, found in the meeting room, depicts these black-and-white memories in a surrealist interpretation. Due to the fluid and abstract essence of each piece, a viewer can take away their own interpretations based on their own life experiences.


Thomas Pettit shows off more of his art pieces in his home, including a large and colorful painting.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Though this ink library exhibit is recent, it wasn't Pettit's first at the library. These drawings are only a few of many he has created throughout his long life of art. He started painting when he was just 12 years old, inspired by different things he'd seen around the world.

Though he was born and raised in Perham, his family constantly ventured outside of town. His parents took him all over the country and outside of it — traveling to places like Canada, Mexico and Central America. He even traveled all throughout Europe and has visited about 48 different U.S. states.

Travel influenced his art, as he continued to take classes in many of the different places he went. He furthered his education in art simply by looking around him. As he took in the world, he'd start to think up new concepts or pieces that hadn't been done before.

"The more traveled you are, the better you are to make decisions," Pettit said about the importance of travel. "You should have as much exposure to everyone you can. The more, the better."

This photo depicts another technical ink piece by Thomas Pettit that can be found at the Perham Area Public Library.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Trying out a little bit of everything, his experience in art doesn't stop at painting and drawing. He's also created plenty of dioramas and even uses photography as a form of artistic expression. A fan of surrealism in every form, he even uses photography to create something otherworldly, such as a picture in which two teacups appear to be floating off of their saucers.

Despite dabbling in many different mediums, he's particularly fond of dioramas. "It's easy to change them around," he explained. "Once a painting dries or something, that's it. But a diorama, you can always change it a little bit or tell a little different story."

Though Pettit is a creator of art, he's also an art appreciator. His home is filled with collections of fascinating pieces from many different cultures — such as jade figurines, Persian rugs and even a Chinese seismograph shaped like a horse.

Much like art and traveling, collecting is something he's done his whole life. His home in Perham is an ode to his travels and interests, filled with interesting knick-knacks and his own artwork.


Though he's been all over the world and even lived in Montana for about 25 years, he returned to Perham a few years ago to look after his parents. He's been staying in his family home since, creating and sharing art with the community.

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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