Family inspires artwork in Blanden exhibit
A Fort Dodge native recently came home to exhibit his sculptures in his hometown for the first time.
“Present/Tense” is a joint exhibit of works from artists Tom Gormally and his wife, Malayka Gormally.
Though the couple now resides in Seattle, Washington, Tom Gormally grew up in Fort Dodge. In fact, most of his family still lives in Fort Dodge or the surrounding area.
Malayka Gormally is from the Berkeley, California, area.
The idea for an exhibit at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum started about a year ago when Tom Gormally met the museum’s director, Eric Anderson.
“I was visiting my mom, we came over to the museum looking around and we started talking to Eric and we told him we were both artists and I told him I was born here,” Tom Gormally said. “And he looked at my work, we went on my website and he said “how would you feel about an exhibit?”
The theme of the exhibit is simple — family.
“The work in this room, it’s very much about this family in this town, so it makes sense,” Malayka Gormally said of the pieces exhibited in the museum’s East Gallery.
“For me, it’s like the importance of family and how important that is to our culture and to the world,” Tom Gormally added.
“The work upstairs, we sort of visualize that as the larger family,” Malayka Gormally said. “Everybody down here are people I know, but upstairs, I got a grant to paint immigrant women, so it’s about the larger family in a sense.”
The exhibit’s title, “Present/Tense” reflects on families in the current political and cultural climate.
“We felt there was a lot of tension in families — political unrest and things like that and so we were trying to get people to look at these things and really look at what they do have,” Tom Gormally said.
After 23 years together and 19 years of marriage, this is only the second time the couple has exhibited their work together.
“The first time we did a two-person exhibit was in 2017 at a gallery called Spaceworks in Tacoma,” Malayka Gormally said. “It was the first time we realized our work does actually work together, even though we don’t collaborate when we’re making it and we work in separate spaces — I work in the house and he has a studio in the back yard. But we’re talking enough about the same subjects. We have some of the same loves of pattern.”
Despite working with vastly different mediums — Malayka Gormally paints and weaves, while Tom Gormally is a sculptor — the two believe the pieces complement each other.
“I think they work pretty well together,” Tom Gormally said. “The linear aspects really pull together.”
In the Blanden’s first floor gallery, the centerpiece work of art is Tom Gormally’s sculpture titled “Witness.” The sculpture is of a vertical portal carved out of the trunk of a 100-year-old poplar tree placed above a bed with a single chair sitting vigil at the head of the bed. Its inspiration comes from a moment witnessed by Tom Gormally, his mother and his siblings around his father’s passing in 2001.
“All of the family was in a room over in hospice here,” Tom Gormally said. “I have 10 brothers and sisters, so when it extends, it’s about 50 people.”
He described the event that inspired his largest sculpture:
“My father had been kind of incommunicado for a day or so, hadn’t talked to anybody, was going through the throes of death and I was sitting at the foot of the bed and my sister was holding his hand, one of my sisters, and all of a sudden, he gasped and he made this portal and started going ‘ohhh,'” Tom Gormally recalled. “And whatever he was seeing — I was looking in his eyes — was amazing. It was amazing to him.”
He added, “I mean, it was beautiful, it was almost like modern dance. It was so beautiful, the movements and the way that he was looking. Then everybody got up around the bed and they said ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ and everybody’s standing around the bed and he kept looking out, finally brought his hands down to his chest, he kept looking up and looking at all of us and looking out and my mom came up and said ‘Bud, where are you going? What are you doing?’ And he looked at her and he said ‘I’m getting ready to go somewhere.’
“So we were all here’s the mystery. So we said where are you going? And he kept looking up and looking at all of us and my mom finally came and said ‘Bud, where are you going?’ And he looked out, and then looked at her and looked out again and said ‘I don’t know.’ It was like this really beautiful, mysterious kind of overwhelming emotional moment in that passing.”
Tom Gormally, who has been creating sculptures continuously for 40 years, had the opportunity to show his work to his family for the first time on Saturday during a reception at the museum.
“It means a lot to us to have his extended family see the work,” Malayka Gormally said. “They’ve never seen it because we’re on the West Coast. Saturday was his mom’s 96th birthday.”
The event was “emotional,” Tom Gormally said.
“It was his sister’s idea that we all pose around it (for a photo) and they felt like Bud was there, that the piece represented Bud,” Malayka Gormally added.
On the second floor, Malayka Gormally’s immigrant women paintings are on display.
“These works, they’re all on paper that is hand-made in India,” Malayka Gormally said. “So that seems like an appropriate way to paint immigrants.”
She paints immigrant women going through the process of applying for United States citizenship, which in the context of the “Present/Tense” exhibit, are part of the larger family.
The “Present/Tense” exhibit will be on display at the Blanden through Sept. 14.
If you go:
What: “Present/Tense” by Tom & Malayka Gormally
Where: Blanden Memorial Art Museum
East and second floor galleries
When: Now through Sept. 14