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Art becomes the tie that binds for Moberg family


Life’s little twists and turns swept up the Moberg family and left them in a place they never thought they would find themselves.

Tom Moberg began experimenting with drywall techniques in the 1970s and is now the only “landscape sculptor” in the world. Art was just “something to do” in college for his son TJ, who had shown more interest in math and science, but it has now become his true passion.

“I never thought he’d be one of those following me around,” Tom said of his son.

Their partnership became an opportunity for them to share their love of art, encourage each other to succeed and attract national attention.

Tom was working as a drywall contractor when, in 1977, he began experimenting with new techniques, first sculpting three replica trees in the alcove of a spec home. What began as a little work on the side blossomed into a family business, Moberg Studios, which brought his son into the mix.

“For the first year, working for my dad, it was a great way to not have a job and make money,” said TJ, who apprenticed under his father for three years starting in college. “But then I found that I had a passion for it. I started studying it on my own and reading everything I could get my hands on just because I couldn’t get enough information about it because I truly love art.”

Tom studied commercial art at Des Moines Technical High School, following what he said is a natural, God-given artistic talent.

“I could draw anything ever since I was a twerp,” he said.

Using his own mixture of drywall materials, Tom creates a sculpture that actually becomes a part of the wall. His work as a landscape sculptor has not only allowed him to express his love for the landscape, but has also put him in a class all his own. He is the only artist in the world who creates these pieces.

His art is featured in homes and offices, portraying everything from running waterfalls to golf courses, with about 90 percent of his work done outside Central Iowa. In the coming weeks, he will travel to Florida to install pelicans, alligators, dolphins and palm trees in a private residence. His wife, Jackie, also travels with him and assists with his art work.

TJ apprenticed under his father, as did his seven siblings at some point in time, for three years, learning his sculpture techniques. But he has since gone on to create his own personalized art forms while still creating three-dimensional pieces, such as a giant snow leopard now on display at Blank Park Zoo.

“He’s got a tremendous work ethic,” Tom said. “He’s always had that. I’d come home and see the lights on in my shop at 2 or 3 in the morning.”

The Mobergs’ dedication to and talent for their art has not gone unnoticed. They have been featured in local and national media, including an appearance one year ago on Home and Garden Television’s “Modern Masters.” The show, which focused primarily on their methods, generated hundreds of e-mails from all corners of the world. TJ said most of the e-mails they received were from artists and others who were interested in taking classes to learn their techniques. But Tom and TJ weren’t biting.

“We did get quite a few jobs out of it,” TJ said.

TJ’s wife, Jackie, was bound to get caught up in the family business at some point.

“I used to try to make her read art magazines, books,” TJ said.

“I like the magazines,” Jackie said. “The art history books are kind of dull.”

With Jackie’s educational background in business and TJ’s passion for art, they were able to fulfill TJ’s long-held dream and opened Moberg Studio Art Gallery on Nov. 22, 2003. The gallery, which also houses TJ’s studio, displays and sells art created by Tom, TJ and 14 or 15 other artists.

It was “good, old-fashioned love of art,” that pushed them to open the gallery, according to TJ.

“My father and I were getting more and more exposure and more and more clients and were getting requests for art in different mediums,” he said. “I was already recommending a few of the artists that we represent. It seemed like a natural fit for people to see my work and my father’s work and the (work of the) artists we represent.”

Jackie is the gallery manager, and TJ said he couldn’t have started the business without her.

“I’ve always encouraged it because I know he’s got the abilities that I don’t have,” Tom said of the gallery opening. “With an overachieving wife, he should be able to do this.”

The gallery’s location, at 2921 Ingersoll Ave., was a perfect fit.

“We wanted a location that was going to be easy to get to and we wanted it to be a destination spot,” TJ said.

Turning the former clothing consignment store into an art gallery didn’t come without a great deal of muscle power. They spent three months gutting the space with the help of family and friends. Jackie has embraced their role in the neighborhood, jump-starting Ingersoll in the Evening, held the second Friday of each month throughout the summer. Businesses along Ingersoll Avenue stay open until 9 p.m., many providing food, live music and special sales.

“Each month you see more and more people,” she said.

TJ said splitting his time between his artist and gallery owner roles has been a struggle. Most of his creative time is now dedicated to his commissioned projects, which began to increase once the gallery opened. He said work on his own “idea pieces” has pretty much stopped, but he hopes that will change soon.

TJ said he and Jackie complement each other, joking that she brings him back to the center when his right-brain personality takes over. Jackie acknowledges her personality is quite different from Tom’s and TJ’s.

But that’s what makes the business work.

“Opposites attract,” Tom reminds them.

He acknowledged that of the two of them, TJ is far better suited to be the gallery owner.

“The difference between TJ and me is he has a true love of art,” Tom said. “I’ve never been a big art person. We’re quite opposite. I don’t get out much because most of my art is done in homes.”

Despite those differences, both men say they love to do hands-on work and use art as a form of creative expression, “being able to make money on doing something that is your own,” TJ added.

“That’s everybody’s dream,” he said.

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