Western art culture is something we in Wyoming are most familiar with, however keeping that style authentic while staying relevant can be a challenge. One artist searches out to tell a story, his story, of western heritage and breaking through stereotypes of traditional western art. Artist Tom Ford describes his artwork as contemporary, with a loose interpretation. “The work I do is the story of Tom Ford”. This all-American cowboy revives the western art scene with his figurative sculptures, contemporary metal creations and detailed illustrations, showing how he has won over the West.
On my quest to search out star artists in the 82717, I came across a few who consider themselves western artists. Artist Tom Ford, however, defines his work as something a little different from traditional western art. His mission is to create work which speaks to the viewer and gets them to think past the obvious, to think about the story, while injecting a modern twist.
I had the chance to interview Ford at his studio, asking how he finds his inspirations, his own history with art, what he does to stay relevant, his technique for creating his works, his viewpoints on where he thinks the art culture is going, and learning what this cowboy artist does to create monumental artwork.
Tom Ford began his trek of creating fine art 40 years ago. He spent most of his time growing up amongst machinery and idolizing artists like Charles Russell, Fredric Remington and Carl Rungius. From this background developed a young, hungry artist looking to prove his worth. These artists inspired Ford from an early age to pay attention to detail, Ford explains, “How they play with light and the accuracy and composition these guys had is amazing.”
When Ford was 13 years old he was found at an art market by a total stranger that would later cast his small woodland beaver wax sculpture in a bronze realization. This was Ford’s first bronze. Later, he went on to create a monumental sculpture in 1995, titled “Pulling Leather”, now displayed proudly greeting Gillette visitors at the Cam-Plex Heritage Center. This was a tribute Ford created to honor the men and women in the west of the past, preserving a western way of life.
New studio, new ideas
When I asked who is most influential in his life, he answered, his wife, Beth. She has not only supported his love of art, but joined him in creating artwork together in their studio, Untamed Designs. As the custom sign out front of his studio states, “Your imagination is my palette.” He gives much of their creative design credit to her, as they have developed many home décor items and keepsakes. “She understands and supports while pushing me to be better, it’s a good balance.” Beth encouraged Tom to try more contemporary styles and work with recycled materials. This encouragement led to Tom not being so tied down with absolute detail, but express more and loosen up his style.
That approach has seemed to work well for Ford, as he has created over 40 monumental sculptures and over 10 of those are contemporary pieces. In addition to large-scale sculptures, Ford has tackled more than 2,000 stone pieces throughout his career, much of which play an essential role for his new studio/shop. He seems excited when new challenges come his way, after mentioning the new shop has been well received and has a good amount of walk-in traffic.
A working artist for the community
Ford has made it a priority to stay involved with community programs dedicated to the arts. His long-term service with the Mayor’s Art Council has allowed him to make lifetime connections and show his support to other artists. He has had an essential role in the development of the Avenues of Art program which rotates large sculptures in the Gillette area to beautify our public areas. In 2015, Ford submitted and was accepted into the Avenues of Art with one of his contemporary abstract pieces titled, “It Starts with Three”. The piece is vibrant in the primary, red, yellow and blue colors and celebrates connection by the surrounding disc. In 2014, Tom also produced another for the same event and resulted in a sale of “Peace Offering”, which is now in front of the Rib & Chop House on Douglas Highway.
Recently Ford has been consulting another board to help beautify the cemetery with sculptures by a variety of artists. It is important he told me, that he is making a mark in the art community by showing his support and giving his time where he can. The artist also stays busy with work that walks into his shop. He has been collaborating with local businesses, as well as larger corporations, such as Ruby Tuesday, designing interior and exterior signage, railings, and other decorative accents. One project Ford has been particularly excited about is the custom metal American flags he creates, which honor Veterans. These are made right in his studio and each piece is unique and celebrates what this cowboy holds dear, his country.
As we wandered the Untamed Designs studio and shop, Ford pointed out the latest sculpture he has been working on. Impressively detailed with layers of machined metal headdress and meticulously crafted feathers, a dancing Native American sculpture is beginning to take shape. Begun in February, the piece was intended for an upcoming show in Sioux Falls, celebrating and honoring the traditions of the Native American culture. His passion about his work shows, along with his love of the western heritage he lives. In the studio portion of the shop that he and his wife designed, hangs original illustrations of Ford’s western interpretations, range worn horses, galloping antelope, and bronco cowboys.
In addition to Ford’s busy schedule at the studio, he has projects spread around the United States. One that is closer to home is the new Gillette College campus where he has some of his work with a new sponsor sign and will have a set of antelope set in bronze, as well. Ford continues to tackle monster projects, it seems, with ease, while infusing his combination of contemporary and old west styles.
For Ford, his biggest accomplishment has been when he creates work that speaks to the client and reflects and captures a moment special to them. This has been an important element that Ford infuses into his custom designs. Keeping perspective is another component Ford considers with his creations. Special attention is paid to how his artwork will display, which is typically outdoors. Ford studies how the light will travel across his pieces and not just in one season, but in all. These factors play a big role in telling the story of each work. Contemplation over how the artwork will be seen by each viewer is Ford’s dedication to the craft.
It is apparent Ford is passionate about preserving his western heritage and pouring new life into his work by his use of contemporary styles. Building the large-scale sculptures that Ford does requires a lot of hard work. It can be labor intensive to move massive metal pieces into place or constructing the wax sculptures to prepare for bronzing. Although he does rely on a few helping hands to manage larger projects, Ford keeps all design ideas intact to create forms true to his contemporary western style.
The future for Tom Ford gains momentum with his artwork, and with a constant desire he possesses to capture a moment for someone else to appreciate. When asked about the future of his career and western art, he keeps it simple: keep creating.
Since leaving his coal mine job to pursue his passion for creating art, Ford has gained a successful and thriving art business while also lending the community—and its growing art scene—a helping hand. Tom, his wife, and their family live the true cowboy way, and art plays a big role. Artists like Tom are inspiring to watch, because they wash away stereotypes and give way to new ideas—showing others that if you want something bad enough, go for it.
To find out more about Tom’s work you can visit his website, www.untameddesigns.net. For more from me on artists and other art happenings, grab the next issue of 82717 Life Magazine, or stop by Rapport on Gillette Ave.
By: Sarah Ferguson of Rapport for 82717