"Tom Foolery: Miniature Environments" at Hallie Ford Museum

Art Manglers, 1989 [Photo by Gary Sinick]Tom Foolery is a highly regarded Montana mixed-media artist who creates miniature tableaux and environments in theater spotlights and vending machines. A small exhibition of his work will run Jan. 7 through March 11 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University.

Born in Wisconsin in 1947 and raised in Livingston, Mont., and Corvallis, Ore., Foolery attended Oregon State University and the University of Washington, where he studied drawing and painting. In 1975, inspired by the New York sculptor and self-taught artist Joseph Cornell, he began to create miniature tableaus and environments. The first took place on the dashboard of his Rambler, while the next appeared in the box of a Brownie camera.

A friend who owned a lighting business in Hollywood introduced the artist to theater spotlights. For Foolery, the interior of each light fixture offered a different sized interior stage on which to tell his stories and dramas. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, his work poked fun at the contemporary art scene, a scene he understood as an artist and as a professional art handler in San Francisco.

In 1994, after numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and Canada, Foolery left California and returned to Montana. After a six-year hiatus during which he designed and built a solar-powered house and studio, he returned to the studio and began to make art. Instead of subjects based on the contemporary art scene, however, he shifted his attention to Western art and replaced the posh galleries and street scenes of San Francisco with the facades, galleries, saloons and brothels of small Western towns.

In addition to a shift in subject matter, Foolery began to work with cigarette, candy and pop machines. For Foolery, the vending machine provided a larger format to tell his stories, and as a vehicle for his dramas, had greater familiarity for the typical viewer than a theater spotlight. The current exhibition includes a range of Foolery's work from the early 1980s to the present.

"Tom Foolery: Miniature Environments" has been supported by a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission.

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art is located at 700 State Street (corner of State and Cottage Streets) in downtown Salem near the campus of Willamette University. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed Sunday and Monday. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for seniors and students. Children under 12 are admitted free, and Tuesday is an admission-free day. For more information, please call 503-370-6855.