The Sculpture Mystery

Houses hold stories created by their inhabitants.  Sometimes the house itself contains the story’s physical record: the successively-higher pencil lines on a doorjamb showing a child’s growth; the secret hiding spot above the ceiling tile; the dusty box of letters left in a forgotten corner of the attic.  These relics provide unique connections from prior home owners to later ones. 

Days before buying our current place, the sellers approached us with an offer: Did we remember that six-foot-tall abstract sculpture hung in the foyer?  The house’s original owner had selected it specifically for that spot.  She left the sculpture when she sold, believing it belonged with the house.  Our sellers now offered to do the same, no charge.  We decided to carry the tradition forward and accepted this unexpected treasure.


I love collecting art.  And I love collecting the stories behind the art almost as much.  But this sculpture’s tale was missing.  There was no sign of the creator’s identity, no art gallery certificate and no title.  (Those things may be on the back of the sculpture, but its protective casing is welded to the wall. Clearly, there’s more than one reason why the sculpture should stay with the house.)

I had to know more and tracked down the original owner. She bought the piece after attending an exhibition in Minneapolis 20+ years ago. The sculpture’s title was “Santa Fe” and the artist himself had installed it in her house. She thought he was a professor at the Minneapolis College of Art back then.  His first name was Tom, but his surname had been long forgotten.  

As an info geek, I am continually grateful to live in the age of the Internet.  I typed “tom sculptor minneapolis college of art” into my computer’s search engine.  And there he was – Tom Morin!  He now resides in a ghost town near Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Here’s my favorite part of the story.  The sculpture incorporates some unique recycled materials.  The semi-circle at the top is an industrial sanding disk.  Resins of the various trees leave permanent stains and each disk develops its own pastel pattern.  The other surfaces are shop-worn sanding belts, also multi-colored from the wood they touched.  Mr. Morin first used these objects for his sculptures while living in Minneapolis and they remain his distinctive hallmark.  You can see more of his artistry here.

Tom Morin was recently honored by having his work incorporated into the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.  And I am honored to now know the story behind this sculpture.

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