Tom Jay 1943 – 2019

Tom Jay became an active member of the Northwest Art Community in 1966, when he arrived from a two-year apprenticeship at an art foundry in Ontario, California.

He built the first bronze-casting facility for Seattle University, then went on to supervise and construct casting facilities at the University of Washington. Upon graduation with an MFA from the University of Washington in 1969, he established Riverdog Fine Arts Foundry, which cast, in addition to his own work, sculpture for many notable Northwest sculptors.

Tom cast for his wife, Sara Johani, also a sculptor, as well as his own work. He also cast the work of students in Sculpture Revealed, a primer in bronze casting that Tom and Sara taught for fifteen years. Alumni of the class had casting privileges at The Lateral Line Bronze Casting Studio in Chimacum, which became a kinder, gentler casting studio in later years, rather than a production foundry.

Tom’s work includes both private and public commissions, among them a large bronze prayer wheel commission for a Bainbridge Island community and several sculptures for the Fauntleroy community park in Seattle. His most recent work is the King Salmon slide for the town of LaConner, Washington — a 23-foot sculpture rendered in ferro-cement and stained in a returning King’s colors. He was not able to finish his last sculpture, a meditation bell for Port Townsend, Washington, before he passed away in November 2019. It is being prepared for molding and casting by fellow sculptors and will be dedicated when finished and we can gather again.

In addition, Tom was a gifted essayist, poet and storyteller; his fascination with words and their roots reached back to his childhood, thanks to his father, who introduced him to a dictionary at an early age. Tom wrote a weekly column on word origins, which was published in the Port Townsend Leader for many years. In 2006, his essays and poetry were collected and published by Empty Bowl Press in The Blossoms Are Ghosts at the Weddings; the expanded edition came out just a month before he passed in 2019 and is available through Empty Bowl Press.

Tom and his wife, Sara, were active in salmon restoration and education for decades and raised a son, Dru, who lives and works in Montreal, Canada, with his wife, Rebekah, and their son, Rafael, born 2020.

Longtime friend and writer Kim Stafford wrote this tribute to Tom:

Take Your Troubles to the Foundry — for Tom Jay

Take any old bronze bric-a-brac made green by years, take all your tarnished intentions, your swords from wars you no longer need, take the gate of your fury now rubbled in a heap, take the plans for ambition's castle, and the castle, and the castle ruins and pitch all that into the crucible lowered into furnace flames for the great change, iridescent slump, spent distinctions pooled, all your suffering wrought pure, regrets and sorrows, angers now fugitive in smoke hustling up the flue to leave this molten soul poured too bright to see into the perfect absence, the bell shape that all your life yearned to ring, to bring comfort, to sing spirit forth into the sky. Word finder, root minder, truth dipper, trust binder, bronze melter, shape shifter, friend keeper, fish leaper, storm sweeper, rain sifter, soul lifter, source seeker, dawn drifter, dream reaper, bear brother — brother to all who know you, know your work, every fish and child, every liberated spirit wakened by your luminous shapes, your etymological soul digging into daily speech, your bear like gentle presence rooting around in old words and worthy work. Love love love to you and all around you, living richly by the good days we share and will grow. Word finder, root minder, truth dipper, trust binder, bronze melter, shape shifter, friend keeper, fish leaper, storm sweeper, rain sifter, soul lifter, source seeker, dawn drifter, dream reaper, bear brother.

Get to know Tom a bit more in this interview by fellow writer Holly Hughes, recorded as part of the Triton Talks Lecture Series at Edmonds College.

Tom Jay Memorial Scholarship

Tom Jay was a longtime participant in the Blue River Writers Gathering. Thanks to a generous donation from a friend, we are able to offer scholarships in Tom's name to attend the Blue River Writers Gathering. Two scholarships are available for each gathering, and the scholarships cover the cost of food and lodging. Up-and-coming writers can apply for the scholarship when they register for the gathering.