Kelly Thorndike – Artist, Teacher, Veteran
Born and raised along the Saint George River in midcoast Maine, painter and illustrator Kelly Thorndike has spent decades working his craft. Along the way, he has evolved a commitment to helping others use art to find their own internal strengths, process their experiences, build resilience, and make deeper connections with the world around them. On multiple levels, he helps people get their colors right.
Kelly brings vast and varied experiences of life and the human condition to both his art and his teaching.
From his hardscrabble boyhood, to raising a family, and supporting his art, Kelly has worked as a chef, illustrator, soccer coach, filmmaker, corrections officer at the Maine State Prison, sternman, dishwasher, offshore scallop fisherman, soldier, preschool teacher, art coach, caretaker, military police soldier, and more. He is an accomplished outdoorsman, as knowledgeable and comfortable with the natural world as he is with people. By nature and nurture, he is equal parts artist and quintessentially resourceful Mainer.
He sees beneath the surface and walks in other’s shoes, while helping people face the realities inside and around them. Deployed to Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq in 2004, Kelly and his Maine Army National Guard company arrived just days before the global release of photos showing previous guards torturing detainees. The photos worsened an already untenable situation, increasing the likelihood of attack from outside the prison, and the real possibility of insurrection within the prison.
As one of the few on the ground at that time with prior training working in Special Management Unit Prisons, Kelly knew how far Abu Ghraib Prison had devolved in 2004. An attack did ensue and, long difficult tale short*, Kelly returned with a Purple Heart. But it was his art, and human connection, that brought him back.
Kelly is currently working on art and teaching via his own St. George River Veterans Art Expedition and has begun creating and sending art kits for soldiers in the field… specifically designed to help them get their colors right.
*The story of Mainers at Abu Ghraib is told in the book Packed for the Wrong Trip, by Zach Griffith, published by Arcade Publishing in 2016.
Copyright © 2018 Saint George River Veterans Art Expedition