As his handmade spirit catchers gently sway in the mild summer breeze, Storm Lake artist Tommy "Two Feathers" Tomforde explains the logic behind his native American philosophy.
"We always hear about how the natives were so easily destroyed, but over my years of study, what has popped up in my mind is their strength and spirituality," Tomforde said. "If people like us happen to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a couple of pieces of sharp bone, we're not going to live. We have a bad day - a terrible day - if the car won't start. The natives had that strength to survive, and they found it in their spirituality."
Inspired by the primitive ways native American tribes, Tomforde has transformed his home into a museum of homemade Native American artwork that, from everyday objects to ceremonial garb, reflects the strength and spirituality of civilizations from long ago. Using mediums such as animal furs and bones acquired from area hunters to materials purchased at yard sales, Tomforde creates realistic artwork resembling native American artifacts. While creating items such as spirit catchers, knives, bows, spears, jewelry and eating utensils similar to those used by natives in the distant past, Tomforde not only puts his hands into his work, but also his heart and soul. As he prepares to display and sell his work for the first time at Artist's Alley during the Star Spangled Spectacular July 4, Tomforde hopes his art will be not only visually, but also spiritually appealing.
"Through my work, I'm trying to cultivate a person's own spiritual awareness without putting a label on it," Tomforde said. "Maybe, through these things, I can reveal things that people need to be reminded of."
Aside from having created his artwork for over 20 years, Tomforde has also written various pieces on the ways of native American tribes for over 35 years. Although he is the first to confess that he possesses no native American ancestry, Tomforde credits being 'Native American in spirit,' thanks to time he spent with a nomadic tribe in Arizona during the late 1960's after serving a stint in the Army. After learning their ways and beliefs, including an appreciation and respect for the souls of all things, Tomford was christened with the name 'Two Feathers' by the tribe in respect of all his accomplishments. He later left the group and returned to his old life in Virginia, until an event over two decades ago rekindled his interest in native American life and spirituality.
"About twenty years ago, I experienced a series of events with my sister. It started with weird dreams I was having, and soon I found out my sister was having them too. We just shared some sort of connection."
Since then, the retired husband and father has continued to create varying art works of native American influence, each piece bearing special significance.
"Each piece tells a story," Tomforde said. "I can tell where every piece came from in these works, and I know there is none other like it in the world."
In sharing his work for the first time, Two Feathers' goal is to make a statement not necessarily of beauty, but instead, of awareness to the way of life that once was.
"To the natives, nature and religion were life. How many of us would say a special prayer before they bit into a pork chop from Fareway?" he said. "Whether it's pretty or not is not the point. I want to make something that you're not going to find anywhere else, but instead will always make you think."