Found Art and Assemblages

By Enise Olding


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Tom Faue's family has eight siblings. He's the only boy. The talented octet includes a painter, a pianist and a sculptor. And Mom is a fabric artist. It's not surprising, then, that Tom followed suit. But it wasn't until later in life that he fully developed his artistic side.

Failing to be accepted into the military at the tender age of 17, Tom decided to travel. One of his sisters accompanied him on part of his journey, which included Europe, the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.  The sights, sounds and experiences of the year of travel were to have a profound influence on young Tom, opening his mind and his senses. 

Eventually, Tom arrived in Vancouver and, for about a year, he worked as a janitorial supervisor, until he visited a friend on the Gulf Islands.

"I moved to the Shoal Islands, where there was a deserted hunter's cabin, and I moved into it," he says. "It was beautiful to be on the Island," he smiles, "to explore the beautiful coast was very fulfilling." All it took was $20 a month to live there in 1970. Surviving sufficiently on rice, milk and vegetables, Tom decided to stay. The freedom of this type of lifestyle suited Tom but, from time to time, he'd turn his hand to paying work as his needs demanded. 

He moved to the Cowichan Valley area when life took an unexpected turn. His dog needed veterinary attention, so he took it to a vet who happened to be building a 50-foot [15.2 m] trimaran to take his family to the South Pacific. Tom was enthralled with the project and all the work involved. "I'd visit him and watch him build the boat thinking how great it would be to have my own boat," recalls Tom.  His vet friend encouraged him to build a smaller-sized boat, egging him on with the comment, "you don't need any plans; a 10-year-old kid could do it." With a little help to get started, Tom set to building his own boat. It took him three years to build his 39-foot [11.9 m] catamaran. 

It was ready to launch in 1976 and, luckily, Tom discovered Genoa Bay Marina.  He was travelling in the back of a friend's pickup truck down an old dirt road. When they got to the end of the road, they found 10 boats moored in a bay. To Tom, "it looked like a little Shangri-La" and he moored his boat, *Alfresco*, there. 

Knowing there were beautiful areas to sail in B.C., Tom travelled up and down the coast. He toured around Vancouver Island for four years stopping, from time to time, to work in logging camps, or in mines, or wherever there was work to bring in some money. Tom lived on *Alfresco* for about 18 years, and it was his artwork that eventually forced him onto dry land.

At some point, in all the years of nautical wanderings, Tom visited with one of his sisters and her husband, who was a carver. He encouraged Tom to walk along the shore and find a piece of wood that "speaks to you, and make your first carving." Much to Tom's satisfaction, the piece of art he produced was way beyond his expectations. He continued to produce driftwood carvings, and has sold many pieces over the years. 

It was in 1982 that Tom began to concentrate on his art. Thinking back, he realizes he's always been an artist having done batik work in the '70s, and taking art classes in high school and college. After all, "the boat was my biggest sculpture," he laughs, "built without plans and more or less custom carved." As he became more focused, he produced more sculptures. Continuing to expand his artistic horizons, his work evolved into found objects and assemblages, "mostly because the materials were inexpensive," says Tom.

Many of his materials come from junkyards or around the marina and, often, people bring him items they think he'll enjoy working with.

By now, *Alfresco* couldn't provide the type of workspace Tom needed, so he hauled a boatshed from the beach in Cowichan Bay and tied it to the dock in Genoa Bay with *Alfresco* tied up on the other side. He had a place to work. Soon, the metal work, being big and heavy, became a hassle to move around to galleries or art shows, so he hung it on the outside of his boatshed. Eventually, he ran out of room. Now, the entire dock of float homes and boathouses are adorned with an amazing array of Tom's sculptures and assemblages. Not only are Tom's works along the dock, but they are also in various places in and around Genoa Bay Marina. 

Occasionally, someone will come along and buy a piece and, Tom grins, "it's world class art at Genoa Bay prices! I'm not in it for the money; it is something I do as a vocation and obsession. I have a game with myself to see what I can create out of what I find," says Tom. People's responses to his art are his reward.

"I'd rather have them out there being seen by everyone than in a gallery or in storage." Still, his work has been featured in galleries in Maui and on Vancouver Island.

It took Tom a while to feel confident enough to call himself an artist, "but after 25 years of doing this work that is my passion, and around which everything else revolves," he's comfortable with being his own boss and enjoying the freedom it allows him. "In the summer, I do my cruise work and the rest of the time I do my art," he says.

So, *Alfresco* is not entirely out of the picture. A few years' ago, Tom decided to run charters aboard *Alfresco* out of Genoa Bay and into the local waters.  He got through all the necessary red tape, training and other requirements for operating a charter vessel and "Tom's Cruise Sail Charters" came to be. He takes out many visitors and happily discovered he has a way with people who enjoy his stories and information about the local area. The stable catamaran can accommodate up to 12 passengers, and many people have used a cruise to celebrate birthdays and other occasions aboard *Alfresco*. 

Interestingly, visitors board the boat by passing from the dock through Tom's workshop home, out on to the back deck and then on to the boat. At first, Tom's wife, artist Frances Westermann, was a bit unsure as to how well she'd like that. But, as it turns out, she enjoys the interaction with people as they walk through their working gallery, which also doubles as their home. She says that for many "it is a real experience to come into the studio when they were expecting to just get on a boat."

Frances is a graphite portrait artist and while most of her work is via commissions, visitors can see a fine array of her work displayed on the walls of their home. Like Tom, she also contributes to the ambiance of Genoa Bay with her landscaping skills since she has a degree in agriculture - plant science. 

No matter the time of year, Tom and Frances' handiwork can be seen at Genoa Bay. Feel free to wander down the docks in between the boatsheds and float homes where no one could miss the abundance of artwork that adorns the area. Tom agrees he is living the unencumbered yet creatively rewarding lifestyle he envisioned for himself as a lad back in the '60s.

SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND - April 2009


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