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    All images are Copyright Protected and the property of Jamie Williams Grossman. Paintings and photos displayed on this site may not be reprinted, copied, downloaded, displayed elsewhere, or used for any reason without her written permission.

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    ------------------------------------------ If you haven't seen the two-DVD set, "The Impressionists", you don't know what you're missing!


    I rented it from Netflix and absolutely loved it. It is an enactment of the lives of Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cezanne, Degas, and other Impressionist painters living at that time around Paris. Fascinating and eye-opening!


The River Behind Tom’s House
12×16″, oils on canvas

Please click here to play the audio file of Andy Lafreniere and me playing a pair of Humphrey guitars while you read this post. The piece is “The One”, by California composer Peter Madlem.

When my Ramirez classical guitar slipped from my grasp on a flight of stairs in 1979, splitting in three places, it led me to the doorstep of classical guitarmaker Thomas Humphrey. As I rang his doorbell on West 72nd Street in Manhattan, with my damaged instrument, I didn’t know that I was about to meet one of my closest friends, or that I’d end up owning four of his amazing guitars, or that our future spouses and children would play together in the brooks behind our house and his, and that we’d watch them grow together until his untimely death last Wednesday.

Tom’s entire workshop at that time was crammed into a small bedroom in his New York City apartment. He worked day and night, tirelessly unlocking the secrets to producing instruments with a sound he heard clearly in his head, but not yet in a classical guitar. Already well-known as a luthier in New York, his apartment was affectionately referred to as Grand Central Station. Musicians would congregate, friends would come and go, and there were more fabulous spur-of-the-moment classical guitar performances there than in the concert halls of New York City. Tom’s magnetic personality, wonderful sense of humor, and beautiful-sounding instruments drew guitar players from near and far. His reputation sky-rocketed when he developed and patented his Millennium design, and his name became a household word for guitarists world-wide. The elevated fingerboard gave players easier access to the high reaches of the instrument, and combined with his unique bracing design, increased it’s projection.

When C.F. Martin approached Tom about making two models that copied his design, my husband and I tried talk Tom out of it. But those who knew Tom know that it was always futile to argue with his vision. While we were afraid that it would lead to loss of business for his own handmade instruments, Tom felt it would force him to have to invent something even better. And so his search for the next great breakthrough continued. Like all great artists, Tom was never satisfied. He always wanted more volume, fuller sound, better sustain.

Tom was as much a philosopher as he was an artist and inventor. He looked at life as a creative journey, and pressed ever-onward along his ingenious path. It wasn’t unusual for my phone to ring early in the morning, with Tom’s excited voice on the other end, explaining his idea for a new bracing pattern. Once Tom and his wife Martha moved up to their estate in Gardiner, NY, I’d often bring my paints along on visits to capture the Shawangunkill River that wound through the back of their property, or the white cliffs of the Gunks that faced the front. But often as not, we’d get absorbed in conversation, talking away in the workshop for the day, or playing his latest batch of guitars one by one, and the brushes would remain in my easel.

When I rang that doorbell in New York City in 1979, and as we had our first philosophical conversation, I didn’t imagine that his voice would be silenced at the young age of 59. Tom’s sound will forever live on through his instruments, and I am grateful that I will hear him speak every time I pick up my guitar.

You can click to read the New York Times Obituary.

5 Responses to “In Memory of Thomas Humphrey: 1948-2008”

I’m sorry to hear you lost your friend. What a beautiful tribute you painted.

Thank you for this beautiful tribute- I am the daughter of Cecile Balestrieri Lanke, who is the daughter of Eunice Humphrey Balestrieri, who was Tommy’s Aunt- Tommy is the son of my Grandmothers brother Don. Cousin Tommy- I called him- had a huge impact on me. I remember spending a Christmas with him when I was around 18 years old, and he was so full of life and art and ideas. What I remember most about him was his soft voice, and his smile and laugh- which in a sense is like the sounds of his guitars. He sat with a naive 18 year old and listened enthusiastically, with interest to my ideas- he actually listened- and didn’t make me feel like what I thought didn’t matter, because I hadn’t experienced what he had.
He was fully there and aware. I am an artist- and I am on the cusp of my 40th birthday- I write this at 10:52pm on April 23rd- my birthday is April 24th. I have been rocked since I heard the news of Tommy’s passing- and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the passing of Cousin Tommy- or the passing of an artist, a true artist, in my family, someone who figured out how through dedication and connection with other human beings, to actually live his dream. Tommy lived his dream- it is a rare and beautiful thing- to figure out how to live your dream. Family. Not an easy subject. And ours is one full of drama. I don’t know who you are, but what you’ve done here is a comfort to me- in a time when I’m scared and unsure- when all I want is to live my dream- you describe the ease at which you would just enjoy each other’s company- get lost in conversation, and just play- together.
It makes my heart soar like the hawk. Thank you, Jennifer

Beautifully written “in memoriam” and performance of “The One.” I wish I’d had more time to get to know Tom. He’ll be sorely missed.

We met Thomas in the Festival de Agosto in 1995 here in Caracas, Venezuela while he was teaching how to construct his guitars. By that time i had been studying Mandolin for 5 years and i was starting to develop an interest for the Guitar, which in a way Thomas helped me see things we, as musicians, do not actually see. The love and dedication to and for the instrument was an amazing thing to see him do and teach, and the final work of art that are each of his guitars is no other thing than a bit of his soul poured into music at the end. I really feel it was a gift to have met this man.
Here i South America we are here admiring him and missing him.
I am sorry for this loss with all my heart.

Tom, I’ll miss you my friend!

What a wonderful song you wrote here with words to celebrate the life, talent and friendship of your mentor. While I am sure this was a profound loss, I am certain that his voice and his guidance are with you always, and your devotion keeps alive in your heart. It is people like this who help us grow, so we pass some of the legacy on for others…

Something to say?