Sculptor made home in Tesuque, launched Shidoni

January 16, 2019

When sculptor Thomas C. Hicks Jr. and architect Gil Beach started the Shidoni Foundry in Tesuque in 1971, it was on the site of a chicken coop that once belonged to an egg ranch.

Hicks, his wife Dorothy, and Beach transformed the 5-acre site, which became one of the largest fine art foundries in the United States, into a live-and-work site for artists that would eventually include a bronze sculpture gallery, art gallery and two outdoor sculpture gardens.

“Half of my life has been Shidoni,” Hicks told Pasatiempo in 2016.

The Texas native, who lived most of his life in his modest home on the Tesuque property, died Sunday of natural causes. He was 91.

“Between his service in the art industry in Santa Fe and his service in the military, and the community of Tesuque, he’s the kind of person they don’t build anymore,” said his son Scott, who has been Shidoni’s president since 1977 and the CEO since 1991.

Born in 1927, Hicks was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, serving in World War II and the Korean War. He worked for an oil refinery in the 1950s, but his ambition was to be a cartoonist. He studied drawing and painting at West Texas State University and Amarillo College, where, dissatisfied with painting, he took up sculpting and became an instructor’s assistant.

Hicks started his first foundry while living in Amarillo, Texas.

In the late ’60s, Hicks participated in an outdoor sculpture exhibition named for the famed American sculptor and conceptual artist Robert Morris. The show was called “Robert Morris and His Oklahoma Friends.” Hicks was the only Texan to participate. It was an experience that inspired a life-changing event.

“It was so great to have a lot of big sculpture out in an open field,” he said in 2016. “So that was my dream, to have a big sculpture garden of my own.”

So, he sold the piano belonging to his twin daughters Debora and Barbara to finance a move to New Mexico. Asked why he left Texas for New Mexico, he answered with his trademark sense of humor. “Have you ever been to Amarillo?”

Shidoni, which is a shortened form of a Navajo greeting, grew to become a staple of the Northern New Mexico art scene. Many local, regional, and national artists created works there, including Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin, and sculptors Allan Houser, Una Hanbury and Michael Naranjo.

The foundry offered casting services in aluminum and bronze, mold-making, sculpture installation and restoration services to artists.

Attending the bronze pours at the foundry was a popular pastime for locals and tourists alike. The property is still home to the Shidoni galleries and sculpture gardens.

Hicks continued sculpting until 2015, the year of his first solo exhibition in 45 years, “A Presentation of Stones,” which was held at Shidoni.

Hicks is survived by his sons, Scott Hicks and Thomas Kern Hicks, and his daughters, Debora Barrett and Barbara Mason. A memorial service will be held at Shidoni from 2 to 5 p.m. May 12, his birthday.