To the beat of his own heart

If you've been out at night in Ashland listening to a local band, than you probably have heard Tom Stamper play the drums.

What audiences don't know is that Stamper, a drum instructor and member of four local bands, also is a sculptor and ceramic artist.

His art is being shown at the Plaza Salon, 60 N. Main St., Ashland, until Tuesday.

A graduate of San Francisco State University, Stamper majored in sculpture and minored in ceramics. His style is influenced by the San Francisco Bay Area figurative movement that utilizes multimedia sculptural wall hangings.

"It's not the only thing I do, but that's what the show is about," said Stamper.

Most of the works on display are new, with a few dating back about 10 years, Stamper said. Since he stays busy playing with the Robbie Dacosta Trio, the Modern Prometheus Jazz Company, the Siskiyou Jazz Project and the Muskadine Blues Band, he doesn't get many opportunities to show his art. The last time Stamper had a showing in Ashland was about five years ago.

"Playing music from the heart kind of ties into the same spirituality and sense of striving for beauty in the world through art," Stamper said. "Especially with jazz, there is a lot of free, spontaneous improvisation that goes on, the music is coming through you, and you're just trying to stay out of its way as you are expressing that force."

Stamper's works convey an anti-war theme, juxtaposing steel and metal with human faces and baby dolls. The pieces represent humanity and the harsh reality of post-industrialism and its effect on the economy and the human spirit, he said.

"The odd thing is that some of these pieces took place up to 10 years ago, so they were already taking shape before the world got in such a mess," said Stamper. "It was already sort of happening and it's ironic that they do tie in so well with what is going on right now."

Stamper said he doesn't know where the inspiration comes from, but his vision is hard to explain. Stamper believes that art isn't an intellectual pursuit, but rather a heartfelt need to express something, even when you don't know exactly what that is.

"Art and music is like magic, you're basically channeling energy from somewhere, from something," said Stamper. "It's flowing constantly and it's a beautiful thing when it happens through several musicians at one time, and I know the audience picks up on it because I've seen their reaction. Then you have to wait until it happens again."

Stamper collects pieces for his art everywhere he goes and said community members who have seen his work sometimes donate pieces he incorporates into his sculptures.

For Stamper, it's important that his art not portray everything in a negative light. Instead, he wants to attempt to find solutions to the problems on a spiritual level. He believes the human spirit will prevail.

Stamper has received many responses to his works from salon customers who can contemplate the pieces while getting their hair cut or styled. When an 80-year-old woman in the salon asked Stamper what the babies in one of his pieces represented, Stamper told her that the work represents the human species, with the metal as representation of the oppressive industrialization of the world.

"With global warming, pollution and now the economy, it's all tied in together," said Stamper. "There is a really serene ceramic face at the bottom that suggests that no matter what happens, everything will be OK."

Stamper said he then asked the woman what she saw in the artwork. "She said, 'I see that you just want everyone to love each other.' That took my breath away because, ultimately, if I had something to say about it, that's exactly what I would say."

Stamper now is working on building a raku kiln at his Ashland home, so he can start creating raku vessels. "It's a labor of love for sure," said Stamper. "And I hope the artwork expresses that to the people who are viewing it."

Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4486 or by email at

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