In his early twenties Thorn was drawn back to the New York City Rudolf Steiner School (the oldest Waldorf School in the United States) which he had attended through third grade, and became a part time teacher. He worked in the classroom, assisting Arvia Ege in teaching art and William Harrer in teaching woodwork, gradually taking on more responsibility and finally leading classes himself. During his time off he would travel to various locations, such as Cape Cod, and spend weeks at a time painting. In 1955, at the urging of the school, he decided to go to Europe to receive more formal art training. But instead of focusing on painting, he was led to Raoul Ratnowski’s sculpture school at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, where he studied and worked for four years. Upon returning to the United States, Thorn taught woodwork and sculpture at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City for twelve years.
One of his students from the time writes about Thorn: "He awakened in me a true love of sculpture- of light, form and shade, of life rising from inertia, form from formlessness, and the eloquence of art. I loved how he smiled, his good kind eyes, his buoyant spirit and springing stride, his incredible gift for teaching."
Another former student, who runs the print shop and teaches print making at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art, left memories of Thorn as her teacher: “Thorn was incredibly inspiring! He demanded a lot. He wanted you to have a creative sense of how to work with the wood, not against it, to follow the grain. He had high standards, but was kindly, with gentle humor. It was a real training.”
In the late 1960’s Thorn began to design a home and a sculpture studio to be built on a plot of land that he and his wife, Jean, had acquired in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. When time permitted they would drive up from New York to clear the land and to begin building their house. In 1971, before the house was finished, Thorn left his teaching job and moved there permanently with Jean to raise their two small sons, and to be able to work in his own sculpture studio.
Around the same time that Thorn moved to the area, a group of people who were involved with the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City had an interest in starting a Kindergarten in Great Barrington. Betty Krainis, a former parent from the school in New York, donated her barn, some land, and her own expertise in teaching the Kindergarten and developing a new Waldorf School. Thorn immediately became involved, and was instrumental in guiding the direction of this new school. He spent twenty years helping to build the school: envisioning the future, keeping the books, helping to found the Council of Teachers, and of course, introducing class after class of devoted students to the difficulties and pleasures of carving and shaping wood. Until his retirement in 1993 he carried the woodwork and sculpture program there, nurturing in his students a reverence for the materials, a sense for hard work, the joy of creation and a love of beauty.
Thorn was a "do-it-yourself" person. He had an amazing ability to build or repair whatever was needed in daily life, always with an eye to beauty as well as practicality. Beds, bureaus, shelves, lamps, stools, plates, bowls, spoons, a music stand, and many other things were fashioned to fit the need. To help make a living in the pioneer years of the 1970’s, he and Jean designed and produced wooden toys for children. He also frequently traveled away to teach in schools and colleges across the country.
Along with his teaching, Thorn always found time to work in his sculpture studio. After retiring from the school, this became his main life task and joy. He patiently labored to develop and refine the “living forms” he created in wood, stone, cement and bronze. During the last year of his life, Thorn was devoted to creating a sculpture for the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, where he had first started out as a young teacher and artist. The sculpture is an image of the threefold human being in relation to the animals. Having completed the clay model, he began carving it in a huge block of oak, continuing until illness slowed and eventually stopped him from working. Until the end of his life Thorn was nourished and inspired by music, literature, nature and art. And still so many of us are inspired and nourished by his dedicated striving, his deep, clear thinking, and the beautiful works of art he has left behind. He passed away peacefully in June of 2000 with his family by his side.
Rudolf Steiner School Kindergarten 1932 Thorn Z at left
Carving a wood lectern at the Raoul Ratnowski Sculpture School. Circa. 1958.
Woodwork class at the New York City Rudolf Steiner School.
With Margaret Froehlich and Arvia Ege, 1964
Sharpening a gauge in NYC
Removing a plaster cast.
With Anthony Nordoff