Thomas Gardner (1857 - 1933)

Birth date: 1857 Death date: 1933  
Birth location: Plano, ILL Death location: Milw, Wi  
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Thomas Gardner

Born July 16, 1857 in Plano, Illinois

Died March 9, 1933 in Milwaukee, WI

While Gardner is best remembered as an artist, he had several careers throughout his lifetime.  In 1861, after his father was killed in a railroad accident and Gardner and his mother returned to her homeland of Scotland. He received some formal art training in Edinburgh, and also in Germany.  During a trip to London, he courted and married Marie Jane Combs and they had eight children together. Around 1880 while in London, an asbestos plant in Racine, Wisconsin, owned and operated by Gardner, failed due to mismanagement. Returning to the states in 1883, Gardner began his career as a theatrical scene painter and eventually settled in Wisconsin.

By 1884 he was working with Louis Kindt as a panorama painter and helped to produce the first of the Milwaukee Panoramas, Battle of Lookout Mountain (also known as Battle in the Clouds) and exhibited it in the Milwaukee Exposition.  His specialties were horses – particularly the manes and tails – and Civil War uniform buttons. That same year, in collaboration with Kindt and others the Northwestern Panorama Company was formed and incorporated and General Grant’s Assault on Vicksburg was painted in Milwaukee in the Schlitz Park Theater studio. The painting was then moved permanently to the sixteen-cornered structure at 6th and Cedar streets in Milwaukee. In 1889, General Grant’s Assault of Vicksburg, was sold to the Milwaukee Panorama Company for $1,000.00 and destroyed.


Before the end of his artistic career, Gardner was to complete paintings for the interior of a yacht belonging to the Russian Czar.  For a short period he was also employed by the wholesale tea merchant, Robertson & Co., as Vice-President.

Gardner changed career paths once more: from 1905 to 1933 he served as minister of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Milwaukee.  The altar painting that hung in the old Gardner Church, which merged with Calvary United Methodist Church, was painted by none other than “Uncle Tom,” as the Reverend Gardner’s fans affectionately renamed him.  He died of angina pectoris at age seventy-five.

1884    Milwaukee Exposition, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

© 2006, 11/27  Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, Wisconsin                                                              4/6/2010

Wisconsin Affiliations

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