When Tom Farris was a kid, his parents traveled to galleries the U.S. in search of paintings, jewelry, baskets, pottery, beadwork and sculptures. Though this Native artist and gallery coordinator says he was less than thrilled to be dragged along on these excursions, the exposure eventually led him to his calling as a Native artist that works to support other Native artists.
“As a 12-year-old kid you’re not too stoked to be hanging around an art gallery all day,” Farris said in a Chickasaw Nationrelease. “But, I had a lot of time to explore things on my own, get into the things I was drawn to, appreciate what I liked as a kid before I knew that was what you were supposed to do.”
Influenced by such famous Native artists as T. C. Cannon and R. W. Geionety, but with a flair for the rebelliousness of contemporary art, Tom Farris turned to pop culture and comics.
After studying Communications at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Tom Farris joined a Chickasaw summer youth program at the Jacobson House Native Art Center.
“I took over their gift shop that summer, rearranged things, repriced things. I was very excited to be there. I was 20 and meeting a lot of people who are now lifelong friends and artists I work with. That summer internship turned into a career,” Farris said in the release.
Farris then created and managed the Cherokee Art Market in Tulsa, a yearly show featuring artists from many different tribes. Farris later operated the Standing Buffalo Indian Art Gallery and Gifts for three years.
Tom Farris explained the name of his gallery. “I’m Buffalo Clan of the Otoe-Missouria on my mother’s side. On my dad’s side, Cherokee, he is Wolf Clan. A lot of what I do incorporates wolves and buffaloes. Buffalo in particular, because my Otoe-Missouria name, which my parents still refer to me as, translates to Standing Buffalo. That’s where my gallery name came from.”
Farris now works as manager of Exhibit C in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown, which is an outlet for him to support Native artists.
“Every job that I’ve had on the professional side of art has been an effort to try and create a market in Oklahoma for Native artists to have a viable place to sell their work. My eternal quest is to cultivate that best I can,” Farris said.
His dedication to this goal has spanned 20 years and enlisted the support of many tribes, artists and friends. “The support from tribes has been excellent. They are willing to make the investment in building the market. I think it’s on the upswing,” he said.
Most recently, Tom Farris was one of 116 elite Native American artists that was selected to take part in the Artesian Arts Festival, hosted by the Chickasaw Nation at the Artesian Plaza. At the Artesian Arts Festival, esteemed artists representing 25 Native American tribes throughout the United States and Canada were featured Saturday, May 27.
His painted handdrum encased in an “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” display case came in second place in the drums award category.
Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) - ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor - Follow @VinceSchilling