Thelma Gladys Speed Houston was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1914. She developed an early interest in painting, and studied at the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York City.
As a young painter and member of the Nassau Art League, she exhibited locally, and then in 1939, when she was only 25, she exhibited in the New York Worlds Fair. This exhibit resulted in a listing in Who’s Who in American Art (1940-1941), and helped to establish her reputation as an artist.
Professionally, she combined her love of color and design with work as a stylist for the St. Andrews Textile Company of New York. Later, she worked as a designer for A. Sulka and Company of New York and Paris. Her career allowed her to travel widely in Europe, Canada, and then in Hawaii. She packed her paints wherever she went, and became a confirmed plein-air painter. Watercolor was the ideal medium for the plein-air painter, and, although she was accomplished with oils, she devoted most of her career to watercolors, winning some 55 prizes for her work and teaching scores of students.
When Thelma moved to California, she became part of the “California School of Watercolorists.” By the 1940s, California painters had established their own unique style that generated national and international excitement. The vistas of landscapes, seascapes, and the urban scene provided much of the subject matter for the watercolorist. This was narrative art that displayed a strong expressionist element. In the hands of the California watercolorist, the marinas and beaches and farms and buildings became expressions of the California heart and mind.
In the hands of Thelma, they also expressed the soul of the landscape, its intrigue and mystery. Her mix of colors, subject matter, and composition suggest a deep appreciation of the mystery of life and its many possibilities. Whether painting in Europe, Canada, Hawaii, or her adopted California, she felt blessed to “capture the color and excitement of a few moments in time.” She did this and more. Some of her paintings have a mythical dimension that point to deeper meanings and realities. They draw you in, and let you become a part of the landscape. Rather than fleeting moments in time and space, they are permanent expressions of an emotional landscape that speak to all. This is her legacy.