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Cast of Characters – Artist Exchange Initiative

We first met Toma Villa in 2009 at Franconia Sculpture Park in St. Croix, Minnesota where we were participating in the park’s cast-iron artist residency.  At that time, we shared ideas for working together that were recently realized back home in the Garden State.


Design on Toma’s protective leather jacket.

Toma was invited to be the inaugural artist in AbOminOg Intl.’s Cast of Characters – Artist Exchange Initiative, which invites artists of merit to cast their work without expense in an environment of artistic collaboration, support, and diversity. Selected artists will create two casts, one for themselves and one for AbOminOg’s permanent collection.

Toma joined us from his home in Oregon during our annual event at Grounds For Sculpture in November and treated us to a surprise offering of freshly smoked salmon and sturgeon he caught in the Columbia River.

The following Q & A details Toma’s experience and the new iron works he created with us.

Q & A

Matt Reiley and Toma Villa

Two Faces

Wood pattern of
Two Faces.

MR: What are the titles and the significance of the two works you created with us in November?

TV: The comb is called Two Faces and can be seen by turning it upside down, and tells how I can be so different from time to time. One side of me is wild and crazy, sometimes out of control; and the other side of me is calm and relaxed.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls
Cast Iron, 2013

The mask is called Multnomah Falls and is my impression of a story that comes from the Columbia River. It’s about a tribe that a sickness came to their village one day and people were dying. Creator came to the chief’s daughter and told her to sacrifice herself and the sickness will go away. She walked to the edge of the cliffs and asked Creator “How do I know I’m not dying in vain?” Just as she said that, water started pouring over the cliffs creating the falls and she leaped to her death and the sickness moved on.


MR: Does the works’ significance change with the use of cast-iron?

TV: I believe that once a piece becomes iron it will live forever. We are making art that will outlive us all and with that the stories we create and the time we have together will live on. So with this element of Fe used in contemporary art will be timeless.


MR: How does your heritage influence your work?

TV: My heritage plays a big part of what I create. I am enrolled member of Yakama Nation and we come from the Columbia River, they call us Wanapums (River People). With that are lots of stories and art that is very special to me. I am a fisherman as well and that is something that my family has fought so hard for so that the rest of us can continue fishing in our traditional places and all this plays a role in my art making.


MR: How did you hear about AbOmInOg Intl Arts Collective?

TV: I met Matt and Scot in Minnesota at Franconia Sculpture Park about four years ago and offered if I wanted to come out and visit some day, and I took them up on it.


MR: What made you decide to join them at Grounds for Sculpture (GFS) this year?

TV: I don’t make it out to the East very often and I thought that this is a perfect opportunity to see some friends and make new ones. I’m always amazed on where art will take me.


MR: What was your reception?

TV: Steve Morse was the first to take me in and fed me, even offered to pick me up from the airport. Thanks Steve. Kate Graves put me up for a night as well. Also everyone I came across was great, really made me feel at home, like one of the family.


MR: How did this experience affect your art making practice?

TV: Every iron pour is different, even when they are in the same place. I really enjoy how different the operations are and it’s something I bring home with me just like a learning experience. Back in Portland, OR we don’t pour iron. I try to get involved in other pours as much as I can. From this, I am working on getting a team together in Portland so you guys can come out someday and pour with me.

Toma working on his mold.

Toma working on his mold.

MR: How did you enjoy NJ? Was there anything that surprised you about your visit to the Garden State?

TV: I didn’t get the time to walk around GFS and see all the art because I was occupied with the event. I loved seeing all the sculptures outside the park. I see how GFS has an affect on the community by installing pieces around the area and that really got me excited. That’s another thing we are lacking in my area, a sculpture park.


MR: What makes AbOminOg Intl. different than the other groups you’ve worked with?

TV: I really enjoyed how this group of artists come together to support each other to create art. What I’ve noticed with iron casting is that it’s not a solo art form. It takes more than one person to accomplish this activity. Canoe families in some North West communities are very important. Within a canoe family, its everyone working together to meet a goal and moving together in the same direction to accomplish this goal, and that’s what I see in AbOminOg, a family.


MR: Do you think you will join forces with us again?

TV: Oh indeed. I really enjoyed my time here and the people I worked with were open to help me with whatever I needed.


About Toma

Toma Villa. Photo by David W. Steele

Photo by David W. Steele

I’m a native/filipino that was raised in Portland but born in Oklahoma. At the age of 19 I married my wonderful wife Neomi and have been with her ever since. We have two girls ages 12 and 3, and the three of them are the light of my world. I feel truly blessed to have them in my life and can only imagine where I would be without them. My wife and I had just hit our 12-year and some times wonder how she puts up with my shit. She must really love me.

I love to paint, draw and work on all types of art, and I know some of the things I create will outlive me. I also know that the family I create is an extension of me as well. We can only try to make things better for our children so that the generation ahead of us can look back and tell stories of Grandpa Toma and his art and also the things he has done.