Tom Williams has worked as a sculptor for more than four decades. In that time, the Oregon native has carved out pieces of wood, bronze and marble, creating works both abstract and functional.
His work is now on display at the Spruill Gallery on Ashford Dunwoody Road near Perimeter Mall. Part of the Spruill Center for the Arts, where he also teaches ceramic figure sculpting, the gallery is showcasing Williams’ work.
The monthlong show, titled “Thomas H Williams: Bronze, Wood & Stone,” wraps up May 6.
“I’ve been teaching figurative sculpture at Spruill for about 20 years, and recently they asked me to put this show together,” Williams said. “I’ve participated in group shows, but never solo.”
It’s the culmination of a long career than began with Williams sculpting as a high school student. After college, he began selling sculptures and delivering furniture on the weekends to help pay the bills until business took off, and today Williams’ work can be found at locations including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the University of Oregon Art Museum, Cox Enterprises and Northside Hospital.
“Once I got hooked on sculpture in high school, that was all I wanted to do,” Williams said. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to do it now for 45 years.”
In his showcase at the recently renovated Spruill Gallery, Williams’ work ranges from a stylized wooden ampersand to a statue of a woman reading a book, a flowing abstract work that’s up for interpretation, a trio of bronze baby sculptures and a marble fish.
The gallery is dedicating a portion of the proceeds from what’s sold at the show to FOCUS + Fragile Kids and the Lionheart School. FOCUS + Fragile Kids is a charity dedicated to helping children who are medically fragile or have significant developmental or physical disabilities. The Lionheart School is a nonprofit, independent school serving children from ages 6-21 with autism and other developmental disorders.
Jennifer Price, director of the Spruill Gallery, said it’s rare for the organization to showcase the work of its own teachers.
Williams moved to Atlanta with his wife in the mid-1970s and opened a studio near his home. After growing up in a small town, he sought out a bigger market and found it in the unofficial capital of the South. Williams opened a Buckhead gallery that he shared with a cabinet shop in the early days.
A big break came in the form of Handcrafted Homes, a provider of custom home design that wanted to know if Williams could sculpt doors. He said yes, beginning a career carving functional pieces for the home that continues to this day.
Williams created doors, then answered a request to carve cabinets. Eventually he expanded into tables, chairs, china cabinets, a few garage doors and, for one client, a sculpted wood baby gate. Thanks to the exposure from the functional pieces, his business blossomed.
“It’s like any other small business in that referrals are key,” Williams said. “I tried every way to get my name out there, but what worked is what works for every entrepreneur: Word-of-mouth is the best.”
Williams creates both large- and small-scale works, and his decorative and functional pieces have found their way into collections across the United States. The variety of his work is also reflected in his decision to work in multiple materials. While wood remains his most popular form, bronze and marble have also entered the mix in recent years.
Not all of Williams’ work is functional. One bronze piece in the Spruill show is dedicated to survivors of breast cancer and depicts a woman sitting down, a serene look on her face and a towel around her shoulders. Williams said many visitors do not realize the towel obscures that she’s undergone a double mastectomy. Some of the other works in the show are abstract and have no official title to describe them.
“It’s an honor to showcase work from one of our instructors at Spruill because usually we do not do that, especially in a solo show,” said Price, the Spruill Gallery’s director. “I’m also excited by the fact it’s all sculpture, which we haven’t had here in my tenure of almost seven years.”
Price said that several viewers on opening night commented on how much they enjoyed the sculptures, and a few even said it was the best the gallery had ever looked.
“It’s a nice breakup of the traditional,” Price said. “A lot of people have paintings in their home, but not a lot have sculpture. It’s a wonderful way to gain more exposure for sculpture in this area.”