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Inaugural art show displays Bray's creations

Artist Tom Bray discusses his artwork on Thursday, June 13, at the Merrill Community Arts Center's Rivertown Campus.1 / 3
Local artist Tom Bray finds artistic inspiration from pieces of driftwood. This piece naturally lent itself to the form of an eagle, he said.2 / 3
In addition to driftwood art, Tom Bray also had sculpted pieces on display. This piece, dubbed "Had Enough?" depicts a shotgun-toting sheriff that is sculpted from clay.3 / 3

Driftwood isn't just debris to Tom Bray.

When the Woodbury man's imagination processes the pieces as he handles them, he begins to see figures: an eagle, a dragon, a fish.

"It's amazing what you can see in wood," Bray said Thursday, June 13, on the opening day of a display of his work at the Merrill Community Arts Center's Rivertown Campus. "Wood's such a wonderful medium."

The display of Bray's pieces represented the inaugural art show for the Merrill center.

Michelle Witte, operations director for Merrill Community Arts Center, said it just felt right to feature Bray -- a 30-year prop maker for Woodbury Community Theatre -- for the center's first-ever show.

The Merrill center and WCT are closely interwoven in the community arts community.

"(Bray) is a perfect bridge to the visual arts," Witte said. "We really want to be able to celebrate all artistry."

Artwork had always been in the background for Bray, who worked for years designing props for WCT productions -- photos from which line the walls of the Rivertown Campus location.

But ever since retiring from his sales position at 3M, he has expanded his artwork to include the unique driftwood pieces.

Bray said he's been collecting driftwood for about four years, much of which comes from the shores of the St. Croix River. He was turned on to the form after his wife's uncle returned from Hawaii with three pieces of driftwood that piqued his interest.

"That is something there," Bray recalled thinking of the pieces that he eventually painted and turned into artwork.

The hook was set, and he took to the shores himself. The interest in gathering inspiring pieces has grown so strong that Bray joked his wife Kay now limits him to three gathering excursions a year.

Pieces on display at the show included an eagle, a flamingo, a rainbow trout, a dragon and a deer head.

"I feel a little bit like Gepetto when I sit down in my studio and create these," Bray said of the character from "Pinocchio." "It gives you an opportunity to be creative and make your mind wander."

But driftwood isn't his sole medium.

Also on display were sculptures Bray has created, including a soldier fighting at Little Bighorn and a surly sheriff toting a shotgun.

Bray said he sculpts the pieces carefully, then uses old dental tools to fill in details like hair and lettering.

While Witte expects more art shows to follow, she said the Rivertown Campus space will concentrate mostly on event art. It's possible, however, that some additional art pieces could remain on display.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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