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Tom Small: A Dance of Artistry and Nature

ArtSpring, in collaboration with Salt Spring Arts and SJIMA, is exhibiting a collection of work by San Juan Islands artists from April 21st through May 24th, at the ArtSpring Gallery, Salt Spring Island, BC, in the first of two cross-border exhibitions. The second installment will feature Southern Gulf Island artists at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, September 22nd - December 4th, 2023.

This blog series explores the work of the San Juan Island artists currently exhibiting in the first of these cross-border exhibitions.



In the realm of sculpture, few artists possess the ability to breathe life into inert materials quite like Tom Small. A featured artist at Archipelago — Contemporary Art of the Salish Sea, Tom Small's journey as a sculptor is intimately connected to his surroundings and the enigmatic beauty of the natural world.

"I don’t want to know where it is—the line between my art and nature." - Tom Small

Tom Small's artistic journey began near Kirkland, Washington. From a young age, he found inspiration in the drawings of buildings on his father's desk and the skeletal frames of structures under construction. As a child, he honed his craft by carving anything within reach, but it was during his high school years that wood carving became a serious pursuit.

After studying sculpture at the University of Washington, Tom Small spent five transformative years living on the Dosewallips River in the Olympic Mountains. It was during this time that he discovered a profound affinity for stones, carving them with passion and purpose. Stones, retrieved from the river, became his primary medium, allowing him to delve into the depths of their inherent character.

In his quest for a more profound connection with nature, he acquired a remote piece of land atop Cady Mountain on San Juan Island. Here, amidst mossy outcroppings and ancient forests, he built his cabin and studio, surrounded by the spirited presence of ravens and foxes. The magical process of sculpting stone is a transformative dialogue with nature itself. He describes a sacred moment when the stone awakens, revealing its identity and guiding his artistic journey. With each deliberate cut, lines and gestures emerge, and the stone begins to breathe, forging an intimate connection between the artist and his medium.

"Somewhere in the cycle there is a moment when the stone comes alive. Its identity emerges and now the work is to reveal it. I cut away a little more. Lines and gestures emerge and the stone begins to breathe. Our relationship changes. Now I am guided. I am there to protect the essence revealed. Our conversation gives life to both of us. Can I transfer or receive living energy in the moment of carving? Can I leave it in the stone?" - Tom Small

"Ebb & Flow," 2022 – 2023 - 13″ x 7″ x 7″

"Bridge", 2022 – 2023 - 12″ x 7″ x 6″

"Sea Chalice", 2022 – 2023 - 12″ x 7″ x 6″

Friday Harbor Pocket Park

In 2016, Tom crafted a stone table, chair, and bench for Breezeway Park, a Friday Harbor centerpiece, earning the town the 2018 Municipal Excellence Award for Small City Success. This collaborative effort with local builders, designers, and administrators has crafted a bustling public hub. As an artist, Tom is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to his community through these ancient, glacier-carved stones that unconsciously draw people to rest amidst the town's hustle and bustle.

Friday Harbor Pocket Park

Island Artist Scenes: Tom Small

In the Spring of 2021, amidst the challenging landscape of COVID-19, the San Juan Community Theatre and SJIMA organizations found a unique opportunity to collaborate and produce a series of mini-documentaries highlighting local artists.

Explore Tom's work in greater detail on his website:


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