William Thon was born in New York City in 1906. He spent his childhood summers camping on Staten Island. He joined the Navy during WWII, and shortly after the war won the Prix de Rome, a fellowship to the American Academy in Rome. He later became a trustee of the Academy. In 1951, Thon received a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He taught painting at Ohio University, and he painted aspects of the Apollo Space Program for the NASA Fine Arts Program.
William Thon had no formal art training apart from 30 days at the Art Students League. He discovered his individual style through trial and error. He began painting in oil in a fairly realistic mode, but during his stay at the American Academy in Rome he discovered watercolor as a serious medium and began to loosen his style some. His work became more abstract, although the sources were still recognizable. Perhaps the major breakthrough for his painting came with the discovery of an abandoned quarry near his home in Maine. Here he painted spidery trees with rectilinear slabs of granite interspersed, such as in Midnight Quarry. While still based in nature, these were by far the most abstract of his paintings thus far.
Thon did three watercolors for the Bureau of Reclamation, two of which were fairly realistic portrayals of the third powerplant at Grand Coulee dam and the surrounding landscape. His third painting, Along the Coulee is similar to some of his quarry paintings. In this painting, he has worked up layers of watercolor, some opaque and some more transparent. There are black scratchy lines that look as though they have been incised in the wet paint, and there are areas of stippling. There is quite a range of textures at many scales. Even within the washed areas, the paint swirls and pools, creating different densities of paint. Although the painting is representational and much more controlled than Jackson Pollock's all-over paintings, the range of textures and marks is similar.