Nancy Thompson

Obituary photo

Nancy Howry Thompson
12 Nov 1929 - 20 Jul 2005
Oaktown 8's Memorial Panel 4LR


Nancy Howry Thompson (b. November 12, 1929) died on July 20, 2005, in Oakland, California. Ms. Thompson served as Artist in Residence for the city of Hercules from 1979 - 1984, where she directed and worked on a number of projects with the community, including the 200 x 17 foot mural at the Interstate 80 and Sycamore Avenue underpass that depicts the history of Hercules and its Ohlone Indians, a second mural at Refugio Valley School, the carving of a totem pole at Woodfield Park and a quilting project to raise funds for the Hercules Community Arts Program. The city and Ms. Thompson received the Recreation Program Citation Award for 1980 from the California Parks and Recreation Society for an "innovative program of outstanding merit". A graduate of the University of Chicago and the Chicago Art Institute, Ms. Thompson was a versatile artist who worked in paint, stained glass, clay, wood and fabric. She believed passionately that art belonged to the community, and loved teaching, saying that she got as much (out of the various programs) as she gave. Before coming to Hercules, she helped found the Alvarado Art Workshop in San Francisco in 1968. This program, which began as a volunteer group of artist/parents, grew into a nationally known program that included programs at over 30 San Francisco schools. As the first Artist-in-Residence at Alvarado School, Ms. Thompson coordinated the creation and installation of a 20 x 40 foot mosaic mural at the school. This 1970 project included approximately 400 students, and was the first time in San Francisco that students, parents, teachers, volunteers and school administrators working with an artist participated in a project that provided a public school with a major work of art. She went on to develop programs at other San Francisco schools, served as the Eureka Valley Artist-in-Community, and completed works for the San Francisco Convalescent Hospital and UC Medical Center. In collaboration with San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa, a long time friend from her days at Alvarado, she worked on fountain sculptures for the Beringer Winery, the city of Santa Rosa, and the Japanese Internment Memorial sculpture in San Jose. Ms. Thompson was an avid bicyclist, backpacker, environmentalist and natural history enthusiast, and carried the same energy and curiosity she brought to her art into all other aspects of her life. In 1994 she received a successful emergency liver transplant at USCF and quickly became an active member of a local transplant support group, in addition to participating as a study subject for liver / transplant research projects. In 1998, she biked across the United States on a group ride through WomenTours; the ride helped raise money for the National Breast Cancer Coalition. A resident of Berkeley since 1979, she worked recently as a docent at the Oakland Museum, where she shared her love of California and its natural history with visiting school groups of all ages. She loved to sing and to square dance, and continued to backpack in her beloved Sierras, taking a trip to Mono Lake just two weeks before her death. Survivors include her sisters, Suzanne and Ann and her brother Samuel, all of California, her daughter Stephanie, of Massachusetts, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and many friends. A private memorial service was held in July, donations in her honor may be made to the Oakland Museum.[1]

Nancy Howry Thompson -- artist, arts educator by Alan Gathright
Nancy Howry Thompson, an original member of the Alvarado Arts Workshop that used local artists to teach the craft to thousands of children in San Francisco public schools, died July 20 in Oakland at age 75.

In 1968, Ms. Thompson joined Ruth Asawa and other artists whose children attended Alvarado Elementary School in Noe Valley to fill what they saw as a gap in arts programs offered at the school.

Two years later, she worked as project coordinator, with several volunteers and about 400 students, to create and install a major mosaic mural in the schoolyard at Alvarado. It was the first time in San Francisco that students, teachers, parents, volunteers and school administrators working with an artist participated in a project which provided a public school with a major work of art.

The Berkeley artist, who worked in a variety of media, including murals, mosaics, stained-glass and sculpture, became the first artist in residence at Alvarado and went on to lead art programs at a number of schools in San Francisco. The Alvarado experiment grew into the San Francisco Arts Education Project, which four decades later serves 200,000 children in the city's schools.

"She loved teaching and sharing what she knew how to do and she believed that art belongs to the community," said her daughter, Stephanie Curtis. "She often said she got more out of the programs that she ran than she gave."

Ms. Thompson once said, "As a practicing artist, I find the interaction of community, artist and student artists immensely rewarding." An avid bicyclist, backpacker and environmentalist, Ms. Thompson loved California's landscape.

"The Bay Area's colors and shapes of the mountains, hills, water and light of Northern California are constant themes in her work," her daughter said.

In 1994, she suffered a mysterious illness and received a successful emergency liver transplant. Four years later, the undaunted, 69-year-old outdoorswoman biked from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., to raise money for the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

She is survived by her daughter, Stephanie Curtis of Brookline, Mass.; two sisters, Suzanne Barger of Lake Wildwood (Nevada County) and Anne Williams of San Diego; a brother, Sam Howry of Los Altos; and many grandchildren.

Private family services have been held.[2]



  1. Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA) Sunday, 14 Aug 2005
  2. San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, CA) Tuesday, 16 Aug 2005