Profile Piece


Eccentric and brimming with energy, James Thurman sits down at his desk after a day of visual art design classes. Objects made out of resin, recycled paper and other various knick-knacks stare back at him. He is planning his next art lesson as a professor at the University of North Texas. But the university is not the only place getting affected by his artwork.
            James Thurman and his wife born in Eastern Turkey are helping Turkish women create objects to sell to help them and their families. 
            Thurman’s dream of making an impact with his art is coming true through the project he has developed in Turkey.
            His passion has always been art and making objects in creative ways, even as a child.
            “I had a lot of unstructured time when I was younger… I was an only child and was always making things,” Thurman said. He was given his own workbench to enjoy in his own bedroom. He was always altering his toys and creating new ones.
             In school, Thurman excelled in the areas of science and math, but he felt no motivation toward the subjects.
            After Thurman earned his master’s of fine arts at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI in 2000 he was offered a full-time job at Penn State as an art professor.
            The art program at Penn State, however, was underdeveloped. “Budgets [were] steadily getting cut year after year, and there were only a couple hundred students by fall of 2010,” he said.
            After nine years there, he started looking elsewhere. A job offer from UNT came across his search at just the right time. He checked the program out and immediately knew this was where he was meant to be. It was perfect for him.
            “I just really loved the overall atmosphere and culture in Denton. I loved the art program,” he said.
            Here he teaches jewelry and metalsmithing.
            “Metalsmithing is basically designing and tinkering objects, forming things. It could be anything, from jewelry, tableware, candlesticks, to sculpture and to chairs,” Thurman said.         His students know Thurman and his work fairly well.
            “Mr. Thurman is a major influence to me personally and what I want to do in my jewelry-making career,” said Lyndsey Rieple, one of Thurman’s studio apprentices. “He is incredibly resourceful and also helps you with plans for the future.”
            Thurman likes to help students think about their careers beyond the classroom.
             “I just never wanted to be a boring teacher. I want to talk to my students about finding their path in the future, and didn’t want uncertainty from them,” Thurman said.
            Art major Cala Coats assists Thurman with his 3-D design classes.
            “James is a remarkable instructor and mentor.  He encourages his students to find their individual potential.  His open and inventive approaches to life and art are truly inspiring,” she says.
            Thurman’s unique talent, charisma and overall positive attitude with the students on campus did not go unnoticed. Even in a country thousands of miles away.
            Thurman’s wife, Umut Demirgüç Thurman, teaches and lives in Turkey. She eventually invited him to teach at an art workshop in eastern Turkey last May.    
            A teacher there representing a women’s co-operative called the ÇATOM (Multi-Purpose Community Center) invited him to teach Turkish women how to create their own masterpieces.
            One of Thurman’s inventions, called “Thurmanite” is a wooden-looking object that was just a joke at first. But this creation, made out of epoxy resin and wood, turned out to be one of the objects that would help women in Turkey reach their own potential and turn into something successful.
            Thurman later realized these women co-operatives were changing lives. Through his inspiration and Thurmanite, women in Turkey were becoming financially independent because they learned a specific art technique, made their own objects that were more composite, and sold them to help support their families.
            Although Turkey is not conservative, a general expectation of women’s roles, such as supporting and being dependent on their husband, is still present.
            “When they divorce, they don’t know what to do,” Thurman said.
            The government of Turkey created the women co-operatives in order to change that. They grant women money, health-care, food and other necessities. What began in 1995, sprouted to about 30 throughout eastern Turkey.
            Because of Thurman’s expertise, these women are creating art, jewelry and everything in-between as a means to earn more money and teach artistic skills to each other.
            So far, there has been no opposition. Any opportunity they can get to expand their market and garner more awareness is considered a good omen to them.
             These organizations also help young girls receive grant money for their education, help with nonprofits, and create fundraising for their co-operatives.
            Thurman and his wife help translate written materials, and help them reach English-speaking markets with their creations.
            What Thurman is doing has inspired his students back in Denton.
            “That is what I want to do, getting into non-profit by helping women through art and jewelry-making. I’d love to go to Turkey and get involved,” Rieple said.
             Thurman has a website,, which helps promote The ÇATOM Project to English speakers. He hopes to raise more awareness to the project through this site.


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