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Kansas upbringing inspired artist who sculpted Kaw statue

By Corene Brisendine

He rode into town under the cover of darkness, bringing with him a “Peace Offering on the Blue.”

Tom Ford, designer of new sculpture gracing the Fourth and Bluemont roundabout that was installed on Thursday, is no stranger to Manhattan — or to Kansas’ western heritage.

Although Ford currently resides in Gillette, Wyo., he said he grew up as a Kansas cowboy.

He said that knowledge helped him create the sculpture he eventually named “Peace Offering on the Blue.”

The bronze sculpture, which depicts a member of the Kaw tribe holding a spear in one hand and a peace pipe in the other, originated with little help from books, brochures and even other artists, Ford said.

Ford said he just picked up his tools and started carving out what his imagination thought it should look like.

Then, he “stepped back to see how close” he’d come to the reality of a time when Kaw Nation was established around Manhattan.

To answer his question on authenticity, he sought input from the City of Manhattan, the Kaw themselves and historical data on traditional dress.

However, Ford said he wanted to avoid making a replica of another artist’s drawing or photograph. So, rather than depicting a famous chief or warrior, he chose to give his sculpture its own face.

“I didn’t want it to be any particular chief, or anything like that,” he said. “So it’s unique. It’s not anyone else.”

Ford said that he would like to return to Kansas, after he retires from his “other job.”

He explained that he’s a full-time artist and only a part-time maintenance manager for an open-pit coal mining company in Wyoming — which is workable because his schedule with the mine is on a five-on, five-off rotation.

So when he is not working in the mining business, Ford can pursue his passions — art and cowboying.

He said his wife, Beth, has already “put her ‘X’” on Manhattan as the place they will move to when he decides to “bring her back home” — a promise he made before they left Kansas.

Beth grew up in Glendale, but Ford also has a brother-in-law and one of his sons living in Manhattan.

His son is a student at K-State, while his brother-in-law is a professor here.

Ford said he also has family living in Beloit, where his mother grew up.

Now that the statue is installed, Ford said he isn’t in a hurry to return to Wyoming.

Strecker-Nelson Gallery is hosting a meet-the-artist social for Ford on Monday at 5 p.m.

As part of his deal with the city, Ford agreed to provide the roundabout statue at cost, and sell miniatures to private collectors.

“It’s been a great project,” he said. “I think it’s great for the city, and I feel honored that I got to be the first one to get this art project rolling.”

As part of the deal, Ford will also donate a portion of the money he makes off the miniatures to help Manhattan bring more art to the city.

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