Beautiful Scars- Mohawk Warriors, Hunters & Chiefs: The Art of Tom Wilson
The Junkhouse and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings rocker is also an author and acclaimed visual artist. A new exhibition of his work, Beautiful Scars, pays tribute to his Mohawk heritage.
By Bill King
Recently, I was able to lure Tom Wilson in for a Thursday morning run at our twice a year fundraising campaign at CIUT 89.5 FM, on the campus of the University of Toronto and conversation about his upcoming art exhibition. I’d never met Tom before, and on first look, the guy looked as if he walked off the set of Sons of Anarchy – perhaps a rival gang. The real “Tom” is genuine, informed a fascinating artist and a truly nice guy.
“I’m here early because I’ve always been the nerdiest musician ever and always looked like the guy who’s going to punch you in the throat, but I’m actually very conscientious, and I care about time and show up early. I haven’t been to this campus for a long, long time and the beauty of looking across the field near Convocation Hall stays with you. I got drunk in that field years and years ago.
I saw an indigenous celebration show with a bunch of traditional artists and Daniel Lanois there. I sat way up in the rafters for that show. I saw Bruce Cockburn there years ago. There’s a lot of fog... A lot of fog in between. I played Convocation with Blackie & the Rodeo Kings once and performed there with Chantal Kreviazuk. It’s a magical hall.
1982-83 I was in a band called the Florida Razors playing places like the Edge before it shut down. The Horseshoe before it was in transition. I also played Edgerton’swhen it was a folk club. I did one gig, and all the folkies were there: Willie P. Bennett, Ray Materick, Doug McArthur, Brent Titcomb, David Wiffen. All these fantastic Canadian folk artists in the room and I thought, geez, this went pretty well, and I got friends to come out, so I said, “do you think I could come back in a few months and they said no, we’re shutting down. It’s going to be a punk room.” After that The Police played there. I haven’t even seen that building in years.
Back in that day, I remember crossing that field and bringing the first Florida Razors album to CIUT - I was a 22-year-old fellow then – I’m a 60-year-old man now.
I wrote this book – Beautiful Scars after finding out my mother and father: Bunny and George Wilson weren’t really my mother and father. I found out the woman who acted as my cousin my entire life is actually my mother and a Mohawk from Ganawaga. That led me to my father, who’s a full Mohawk and me, growing up thinking I was a big sweaty Irish guy; but really a big sweaty Mohawk man. I grew up an only child, and three summers ago I went back and met six of my brothers and sisters from the reserve in Ganawaga.
Now, I’m embracing my Mohawk culture the only way I can. I come from six generations of ironworkers who built North America into the sky. My great, great grandfather is the fourth guy in on that famous photo on top of Rockefeller Centre eating his lunch on a beam. I am dedicating my art the next twenty years, if I have that much time on this earth, to honouring the Mohawk culture and the people of Ganawaga. I did it in my book, which I’m happy to say became a bestseller here in Canada, and I’m still out promoting. I’ve created an art show that opens November 30th at the Art Gallery of Burlington that will be crossing Canada. I’ve also put out a vinyl album I’ve recorded with a symphony orchestra.
I wrote Beautiful Scars after reading Miriam Toews – All My Puny Sorrows and I performed it on CBC Radio's q. She broke down and loved the song and cried. We’ve been pals ever since.”
Beautiful Scars: Mohawk Warriors, Hunters & Chiefs: The Art of Tom Wilson at the Art Gallery of Burlington launches December 1, 2018, and concludes January 27, 2019. Title Sponsors are Samuel, Son & Co. and MNP; Exhibition Sponsors are Utter Morris Insurance; O’Connor MacLeod Hanna; Four Corners Group; Adam and Christine Doering; Rick and Cindy Balaz.