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A Living Museum
Brett Mountain Photographer
Local artist Tom Fox has created a wonderland of creativity in his West Bloomfield home.
Judi and Tom Fox have filled their West Bloomfield home with more than 400 multi-media artworks completed by one artist — Tom Fox.
In a home studio outfitted with specialized equipment acquired over many years, Fox has formed glass, copper, wood and other materials into figurative and abstract pieces. A retired engineer, he mechanizes some designs to have movement.
Not far from his studio are two rooms filled strictly with displays of his completed works, complementing pieces accessorizing the rest of the house. With occasional exception, artworks that leave the residence are gifted to family, including three children and five grandchildren.
Fox, 86, began his artistry some 40 years ago, after he chanced to read about and then attend a stained-glass workshop. He liked the experience so much that he started buying his own equipment and exploring new directions for his creativity.
“I can spend 10 hours a day working on something,” says Fox, whose current project is a three-dimensional depiction of a basketball player. “On average, I probably spend four or five hours a day in my studio. I have equipment for anything I want to do.
“The basketball player will be 18 inches tall. It is being made of copper pieces soldered together. I don’t yet know whether the ball will be held with one hand or both hands. A basketball player is something I haven’t done, and I try to do different things all the time.
“I experiment with different metals although I have an idea before getting started. For the basketball player, I wanted to do a person doing something, and I thought about putting a ball in his hand.”
Fox’s collection includes nonreligious functional pieces, such as furniture and jewelry boxes, and functional Judaica, such as menorahs and dreidels. Jewelry can include secular or religious symbols.
“When I was a kid, I liked to make things,” says Fox, who was born in Budapest, survived the Holocaust and lived in Israel before coming to America. “I went to a school where we worked with machinery. I like working with my hands and imagining what I can do. I want to do things that are unique.”
Early training came with attending to crystal radios in Hungary. In Israel, he served in the Air Force and was employed by El Al Airlines, designing and repairing airplane parts. After coming to Detroit, Fox studied engineering at Wayne State University and was hired by the Chrysler Corp. as a process engineer. He retired from Chrysler as a supervisor in advanced manufacturing and was an automotive consultant for about five years.
“I think about how a work of art can move and look different, and then I come up with something,” he says. “One of my favorite moving pieces hangs in our dining room. It’s made of all wires and has people and animal replicas inside. There’s a light installed so that when it turns, a person or animal can be seen on the wall.”
Fox, a member of Adat Shalom Synagogue and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Michigan, has a strong interest in portraying stories from the Bible. Among this series are depictions of Moses carrying the Ten Commandments, Noah’s ark, the Tower of Babel and Jacob’s ladder.
“Each religious project represents my thinking of what I know about the history and how I think about it,” he says.
Because Fox thinks about the effects works of art have among their surroundings, he likes using copper.
“Copper constructions look very good when they’re against a black background,” he says. “You can see reflections in certain ways. You see the artwork and the shadows on the wall, and they’re different.”
Some years ago, Estee Lipenholtz, a friend of the Foxes’ daughter Sandi, was studying filmmaking and decided that the artist and artwork should be posted on the web. She made a video, Shards of Stained Glass, later updated and still online.
“I think of my dad’s work as timeless, and growing up was a bit like living in a museum,” says Sandi, who now adds lots of her father’s artwork to her home décor in Washington, D.C. “I love trees, and he made me copper sculptures of trees.”
Sandi, a librarian, also is glad to have both functional and decorative works that include a menorah and a stained-glass flower placed as a window enhancement.
In 2015, Tom Fox started taking pictures of his artwork as documentation, and his other daughter, Lori Rodner, came up with the idea of putting together a coffee table book, made on Shutterfly, with images and his biography. Lori took more pictures, and Sandi helped write the biography for Tom Fox: A Lifetime of Art. It turned out to be their dad’s birthday gift that year with copies for family members.
“I’ve updated the book because he keeps making new pieces,” says Rodner, who followed her dad professionally by becoming an automotive engineer and artistically by working with him on some projects as well as completing paintings on her own. Together, they made a jewelry box to give to her friend.
Rodner, who has a distinctive jewelry box of her own, especially treasures a purple and pink stained-glass teddy bear that she was given as a little girl and since has placed over a window in her home.
“I watched my dad create his artistry, and I feel that creativity is inside of me,” she says.
Tom Fox’s professional legacy emerges in the career choices of grandsons studying engineering at Michigan State University. His artistic legacy reaches further.
“All the grandchildren are very artistic,” says Judi Fox, who helps her husband with color choices and even added some of her own drawings to their walls. “The kids like to make things, and we have all kinds of supplies, like paints and crayons, for the younger ones.”