Amidst our Rio Nido Splendor he Creates Masterpieces of Wood and Bronze.
An interview by Patricia Roland-James,
Photos by Robert James
My husband, Robert, and I visited wood sculptor Tom Azevedo and his wife, Judith Williams, in their lovely Rio Nido home on June 20th. Judith said their home is a museum and it is, filled with Judith’s family antiques and Tom’s remarkable wood carvings.
The first carvings I noticed were the members of a barber shop quartet. The detail was wonderful. Creases in their pants and wrinkles in their shoes, Tom said that he got the inspiration from Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Tom, at one time, was in a barber shop quartet.
He prefers alder wood to carve. He uses large and small adzes, a wood chisel, mallet, and knives. He also likes bass wood and redwood heart. Most of his pieces are wood but some are cast in bronze and pewter. He has worked with clay and stone and even in lead when he carved weights for his father’s fishing boat.
Tom was born in Oakland and has been carving since he was 10 or 11. He started at the E. Oakland Boys Club 70 years ago. The idea for colorful and charming carousel animals came from childhood memories.
His mentor was Emil Janel who carved pieces that were sold by Maxwell galleries in San Francisco but also had a cabin here and left examples of his work in Rio Nido.
Tom first met Janel when he saw him on television in 1963 and was very impressed with his art. After he wrote a letter to Janel, Tom was invited to his home where he lived with his wife, Gretta, in the basement of a huge mansion in San Francisco. Emil gave Tom a piece of wood to carve and really liked the result.
You can see the resemblance to Emil’s work in some of Tom’s carvings.
Tom’s first acquaintance with Rio Nido came when Janel sent Tom here to pick up alder wood. Rio Nido was pretty primitive back then, just a few shacks and cabins, Tom said. Very few people lived full time here and it was almost closed down completely in the winter.
In the 1980s he took classes in drawing, clay and bronze casting at Lake County Community College in Lake Tahoe from teacher, Dave Foster, but other than this has no formal training in wood carving.
Because Tom was a podiatrist for almost 30 years he knows human anatomy and has been able to transfer his knowledge into life-like wood carvings of the human form. He made a copy of Russian ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev’s foot and had it cast in bronze. My favorite carving is a two men ensemble copied from a photo.
His knowledge of human anatomy also transfers to animal forms. We saw a wonderful bear and a stately gorilla cast in bronze. And then there is the fantastic black cat stretched out in a languid pose.
Tom was a member of the Russian River Art Gallery for 5 or 6 years. He also has pieces at the Bodega Landmark Studios and one carving at Trio in Guerneville.
He’s a man of many talents and interests. He plays the trombone, Celtic drum (bodhran) and chromatic harmonica. He says he dabbles in painting and he likes to play computerized chess in tournaments around the world.
Tragedy has the power to inspire. Much of the inspiration for Tom’s art come from a tragedy which occurred to him in the early 70s. He and 3 of his friends were returning a cabin cruiser to Monterey from Berkeley when a sneaker wave hit the boat in the evening. Tom was wearing a new life vest, which was given to him for his birthday by a friend, and was able to make it to the rocks. Out of a party of four, he was the only one to survive. The accident and grief marked Tom for life, but from that he became more connected to his emotions and nature. He has tried, over the years, to remember the positive aspects of his and their lives and has hoped he could bring joy to others through his art.
Tom will be exhibiting some of his sculptures at the Rio Nido Art and Crafts festival on August 2nd. Enjoy the homeowners pancake breakfast from 9-12 and check out Tom’s carvings as well as other art and crafts in the Rio Nido Homeowner’s Park from 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM.