“Spring in Spain” will hang in the library. It is the school’s only original painting.

LEWISTON – Most Lewiston High School students had never heard of artist William Thon when he died in 2000.

But soon, every one of the 1,300 teenagers will get to know his work. This week, an original Thon painting will take a permanent spot in in the high school.

“He’s been in the big leagues since the 1950s,” said art teacher Jody Dube. “He may not be a household name, but in the art world, he’s a heavyweight.”

Born in New York City in 1906, Thon was largely a self-taught artist renowned for his oil and watercolor paintings. The works were often inspired by nature and usually combined traditional landscape and abstract styles.

He moved to Port Clyde in Knox County in the 1940s. He painted there through six decades, gaining inspiration from the region.

Hoping to offer some inspiration of his own, Thon willed his artwork to Maine schools.

When he passed away in 2000 at the age of 94, his estate announced plans to give one original Thon painting to the largest high school and elementary school in each county. Every public school in Portland and every public school in Knox County also got a painting.

The Portland Museum of Art helped Thon’s estate distribute the artwork to 68 schools this winter.

“It really was his wish that in a state that had given so much to him as an artist, that he would give something back,” said Dana Baldwin, education director at the Portland Museum of Art.

Lewiston High School, the largest high school in Androscoggin County, will unveil its painting at a public ceremony Wednesday.

“We’ve never been given a gift like this before,” said high school activities director Jim Horn. “I just find it exciting.”

Thon painted the 22- by 36-inch oil painting, with its rich greens and slight textures, in 1961. It is titled “Spring in Spain.”

Like many of Thon’s other paintings, Lewiston’s piece mixes a traditional landscape with an abstract style.

“It’s a landscape,” Dube said, “but there are definitely liberties taken.”

The painting was recently appraised at $12,000.

Because schools had to agree to keep the Thon paintings in a public, yet protective place, Lewiston High will hang “Spring in Spain” in its library. It is the school’s only original painting.

As part of the gift, the Portland museum also included a lesson plan, a videotape about Thon and information to be placed next to the artwork.

Dube hopes the original painting will inspire his students in a way no reproduction or poster ever could.

“I hope that the kids get to see that art is not far-off and distant,” he said. “This kind of hits home.”

Lewiston High School’s unveiling ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held in the Memorial Garden. It is free and open to the public.

Other Thon painting recipients include Montello Elementary School in Lewiston; Guy E. Rowe School in Norway and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris; Woodside Elementary School and Mount Ararat High School in Topsham; and W.G. Mallett School and Mount Blue High School in Farmington.

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