In 1944, Thelma Davis Calhoun (1913-1998) and her husband, James W. Calhoun (1903-1993), drove from the couple's home in Seattle, Washington, to Virginia City, Nevada. Thelma often said their relocation to the Comstock was literally determined "by the toss of a coin." One year later, the Calhouns settled in Carson City–James would become the director of the Nevada State Museum in 1951, and Thelma would be recognized as one of the foremost painters in northern Nevada.
A native of Warren, Ohio and daughter of an East Coast advertising executive, Thelma Calhoun was attracted to both the fine arts and architectural drafting, disciplines that would eventually be combined in her paintings of historical buildings.
It is apparent that living on the Comstock made a significant impression on Calhoun. Virginia City, lodged on the steep side of Mt. Davison, had retained its character as a rugged nineteenth century mining town. Calhoun was intrigued with the often less-than-vertical, weather-beaten buildings along C Street (with its many bars) and the deep, unguarded ore pits and nearby tailings–remnants of feverish mining activity in the previous century.
In many instances, Calhoun developed her paintings from sketches made on site. Her early experiences at a drafting table allowed her to quickly resolve the usual problems related to perspective. She preferred to dramatize the angles of the buildings she was rendering, in the process often giving less importance to greenery, streets, and human figures.
As Calhoun's reputation grew, so did the number of commissions. The artist's records indicate that she sold over 500 works of art during her lifetime, studies of both private and government buildings, from gingerbread Victorian homes around Carson City to neo-classical courthouses around the state.
Never one to hide in her studio, Calhoun compiled a record of civic achievements that leaves one wondering how she ever found time to work on her art. She played a pivotal role in the enactment of the legislation that created the Nevada State Council on the Arts (now Nevada Arts Council) and received the Distinguished Nevadan award in 1978. The Governor's Art Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts was bestowed in 1989. Calhoun served a term on the Carson City Board of Supervisors and, for a time, she was a "gun-toting" Deputy United States Marshall–transporting woman prisoners around the West.
Calhoun's death was met with many profound expressions of loss around Carson City and the state in 1998.