Evelina Galli - Armenian Reporter

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Evelina Galli - Armenian Reporter

At National Veterans Creative Arts Festival

Karnig Thomasian wins first prize

by Lola

Koundakjian

Air Force veteran Karnig Thomasian, of

New Jersey, won first prize in this year’s

National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

Thomasian had also won second prize

(in the monochromatic category) at the

same festival in 2007. There are 130 categories

offered in the competition.

Thomasian and his spouse, Diana,

were in California October 20–27 to

attend the event and accept the prize.

“Every VA hospital, in each of the states,

holds a competition,” Karnig Thomasian

said. “The winner then gets to go to the

national competition, all expenses paid.”

This year’s event was held in Riverside,

California, hosted by the VA Loma Linda

Healthcare System.

In his autobiography, Then There

Were Six: The True Story of the 1944

Rangoon Disaster (reviewed by William

A. Rooney for the Armenian Reporter

– February 2005), Thomasian

wrote about his experiences training

to be a gunner and flying around the

world in B-29s. At the time, the B-29

was the largest and most complicated

aircraft ever built – the Enola Gray,

which dropped bombs on Hiroshima

and Nagasaki, was a B-29.

Thomasian quit high school to volunteer

for the Air Force during World War

II. He trained as a riveter, then a special

B-29 gunner. After numerous training

stops and forming a team, Thomasian

served in Asia, where he survived the

Rangoon disaster and was captured by

the Japanese when he was 21 years old.

Upon his return to New York City as

a former POW, he continued his studies

under the G.I. Bill. Having been brought

up by a pianist mother and in a household

full of visiting artists, Thomasian

attended the Arts Students League (ASL)

for four years. Those were the golden

years of the institution, where the ghost

of Arshile Gorky held court – the artist

used to visit Stuart Davis there

prior to the war. Another war veteran

studying at ASL was Manuel Tolegian,

who became a close friend of Jackson

Pollock’s.

After graduating from ASL, Thomasian

married and continued his studies in

layout and typography, which gave him

opportunities to work in agencies all

over New York City. A successful career

ensued. He retired in 1996.

All was not easy for Thomasian who

grew up in a loving three-generation

household in Kew Gardens, N.Y. The

family moved to Washington Heights,

an Armenian enclave in northern Manhattan,

after his father lost his business

during the Crash of 1929.

Both of Thomasian’s parents hailed

from Istanbul. His mother moved to

Venice and then Paris, where she graduated

from the Conservatoire de Paris.

When Thomasian was growing up, his

parents held musical soirées on a regular

basis. They would invite musicians

Above: Karnig

Thomasian during

an exhibit of his

work. Photo: Diana

Thomasian.Left:

Karnig Thomasian

during the Reporter

interview, October

2008. Photo: Lola

Koundakjian. Below:

Portrait of Alfred

Goldstein – charcoal

drawing by Karnig

Thomasian. Right:

Portrait of a police

officer who perished

on 9/11. Pencil

drawing by Karnig

Thomasian. Below left:

The charcoal drawing

that won the first prize

of the 2008 National

Veterans Creative Arts

Festival.

such as Maro and Anahid Ajemian,

the co-founders of the Friends of Armenian

Music Committee in the 1940s.

The Ajemian sisters were closely linked

with the avant-garde composers of the

time and invited them along. Thoma-

sian’s memories from his teenage years

include watching composer John Cage

prepare a piano for one of his famous

pieces, which is played by altering the

sounds via various objects placed in the

strings of the instrument. Composer

Alan Hovhaness, another Ajemian

protégé, was also a frequent visitor to

the recitals.

As a former POW, Thomasian eventually

acknowledged suffering from posttraumatic

stress disorder. He joined

the American Ex-Prisoners of War

Organization and received treatment

from VA therapists. With the support

of his immediate family and other veterans,

he made it through it all. Today

Thomasian is a lecturer and an accredited

National Service Officer for the

American Ex-Prisoners’ Garden State

(NJ) chapter. Throughout the years,

he has helped over 50 combat veterans

with their needs, including getting

their disability compensations. In addition

to helping former soldiers and

POWs, Thomasian regularly lectures

in schools and teaches drawing classes

in an art school in New Jersey. f

connect:

portraitsbykarnig.com

1.va.gov/vetevent/caf/2008/Default.cfm

axpow.org/

C4 Armenian Reporter Arts & Culture November 8, 2008

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