By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN In a quiet valley uncluttered by corporate chaos, the artwork of 1979 Holy Trinity High School graduate Tom Mosher is forged into existence.
“Though I work with a variety of mediums, steel has always been my favorite,” he noted. “I enjoy overcoming the challenges that present themselves in my quest to achieve an unmatched realism in an art form practiced by few and truly mastered by none.”
Mosher has been in Paradise Valley, MT nearly eight years now, after three decades of working primarily in the marine construction industry.
“I came to Montana to live the spiritual life of a free Earth artist,” he said. “I’m living that dream.”
Mosher’s business, Steel My Heart Forge & Gallery, includes life-sized sculptures, shields, custom handrails, decorative shelves, and other commissioned pieces.
“Each is a hand-forged, one-of-a-kind piece,” he noted.
Always an adventure
Mosher’s first job was at Littfin Lumber in Winsted, from 1977 to 1983. His father, Bill, was an industrial arts teacher at Holy Trinity School, and his mother, Helen, taught elementary school.
Mosher remembers getting fired from Littfin Lumber, which gave him a push to explore a new career path.
“I spent most of my life as a commercial [deep sea] diver, and I got to see the world,” he said.
Through the years, Mosher also worked as a shipfitter foreman, owned a steel fabrication business, and was employed as a carpenter, welder, and pile driving superintendent.
He spent 12 years in Chicago before deciding to seek a “quiet, peaceful life.” Montana is one of the least-populated states per square mile. Mosher lives 16 miles from the nearest town, and 37 miles from Yellowstone National Park.
Surviving the winter
His first year, locals warned him it wouldn’t be easy making it through the winter. At first, Mosher assumed they meant the cold, but quickly realized that winter is a time of “tough economic conditions” with higher unemployment and less tourism.
“I saved a lot of money before I came here,” Mosher said, adding that working with steel as an artistic medium is very expensive.
During the recession, Mosher supplemented his living by cutting firewood. He also tanned buffalo hides, did taxidermy, and made drums and knives.
Wild and free
Mosher describes Montana as a place with “western justice,” and “fewer laws.”
“You work things out between yourselves for the most part,” he said.
Generally, it takes a while for newcomers to be accepted into the culture.
“You have to earn your right to be here; until then, you’re a transplant,” he said.
Mosher’s artwork reflects his surroundings, whether it’s a life-sized buffalo/cowboy/Indian sculpture or a ghost dance shield with arrows.
One piece he’s currently working on is a steel dragon sculpture for his fiancée, who is living 100 miles away while caring for her elderly father.
He also recently completed a detailed eagle sculpture called “A Mother’s Gift,” which he plans to donate in memory of his mother, and in honor of mothers everywhere.
Several apprentices have worked with Mosher over the years, and his current one is “motivated and works hard.”
“It’s an environment that’s hot, dirty, and crowded with goats it’s not for everybody,” Mosher said.
Mosher keeps goats around as company, and has found them to be intelligent animals.
“Like anything else, if you treat them like family, they’re going to respond that way,” he said. “They’ve got everything they need here.”
With a scenic spot between the mountains, a supply of steel, and thousands artistic possibilities in his mind, Mosher is looking forward to many more adventures at his Montana home.
“I think this is a very special place,” he said. “It’s like a whole different world.”
See Mosher’s work
Steel My Heart Forge & Gallery is located in Paradise Valley, MT. Artist Tom Mosher can be reached at (406) 333-4136 or at TomMosher@aol.com. For details, go to www.tommosher.com.