As a well known South Australian artist Tom Gleghorn recalled a defining moment in his life in a publication by the University of Adelaide: After arriving in Australia at the age of three his family settled at Warners Bay on Lake Macquarie. Just after he started school he established a friendship of sorts with a hard drinking, uncouth ruffian called Joe Westcott. One evening Westcott told him about and read to him Aesop’s Fables. This gave him a thirst for education and knowledge. Westcott was later painted by William Dobell. The painting is entitled The Billy Boy.
As a young man he was reading works by Santayana and other philosophers. Still he had completed an engineering apprenticeship and his path in life seemed to be set. Then in 1949 he and his wife of two years visited the Art Gallery of NSW and saw two paintings by Dobell which captured his imagination. This second ‘defining moment’ started him on the path to becoming an artist.
A year later he left his engineering job and started to work in display design in Newcastle. He never has any formal training in art but he did get encouragement from Dobell. At the age of 30 and now with two children he moved to Sydney and he worked as an artist/designer with retail stores. This led in turn to him becoming the director of the Blaxland Gallery in 1958. In the same year he won the watercolour section of the Mosman Art Prize with a painting entitled Fragment of the Crucifixion and the Blake Christus Prize with Head of Christ.
Robert Hughes writing in an article in 1959 said that opinions were sharply divided about Gleghorn. He had been referred to as a glorified commercial artist, as a fraud, as a bright young man who will fizzle out in a few years. On the other hand Hal Missingham called him the greatest painter in Australia. He came to art at a time when abstraction was in fashion in Australia and his subsequent career seems to show an enduring artist talent.
A highlight in his developing career was his winning the Helena Rubinstein Travelling Scholarship in 1961. He travelled overseas in 1962-63 and concentrated on the great European art galleries.
From this time he became an art educator and was renowned for his technical mastery of art materials. He was a teacher of art and design at the National Art School in Sydney until 1968, then head of art at Canberra Art School and in 1969 joined Bedford Teachers College in Adelaide. He finally left teaching to paint fulltime in 1983.
During his career he has exhibited on a regular basis at commercial galleries with the peak year being 1966 when he had five solo exhibitions. His works have always sold well with prices around $1000 in the 80s.