Tolley Marney

I have been a person without a voice most of my life. I see the printed word upside and down all mixed up. I sometimes hear language differently than most and I’ve struggled for years with a stutter than occasionally still stops me.

I have severe dyslexia. I look normal but I feel different. All my life I've felt out of step. Trying to understand street signs forced me to memorize patterns and maps. Books were beyond me, written instructions left me clueless. I can comprehend the language I hear, but I am lost when it comes to the written word. It's like falling down a well, the faster I fall, the light above me becomes dimmer, giant walls form in front of me, there is no escape from the darkness.

I must calm down to see the light, calmness brings me hope, brings me clarity of thought and the words untangle into recognizable forms. Even my lips betray me. My tongue and my lips twist with every word I speak. Not until I was in my mid 50’s in 2013, when voice software was available at the closest community college, was I able to feel capable of understanding the written word. Until then I worked alone, mostly with horses as a trainer and horseshoer.

When I wasn’t working or being a dad to my three sons, my hope and salvation was art. When I was a little boy, I learned that taking pen, pencil or brush to paper I could draw a landscape, or paint an image and it brought hope to my mind. As an adult, my life with horses and blacksmithing guided me to my true direction, sculpture. I am a blacksmith. I can make a piece of steel come alive through the fire of the forge. Every swing of my hammer against my anvil sends tones of sound into the steel, shaping it with my every blow. The ring of my anvil is a lively spirit.

Through the disabled Artist grant I was able to let my voice be heard. My dream was to find my voice in words. Words were a fear that shaped my life. I was ready to conquer my lifelong fear. With the grant, I purchased a modern computer that worked better with dictation and it helped me to finish my memoir, A Tangle of Bones. In my memoir, I explore the time I came of age, from when I was 10 to 13 years old. For those three years I lived on the island of Okinawa. To this day, my artwork is influenced by Japan.

Since writing this book Covid has changed our world. I continue to work on my book, trying to find a agent and/or an editor. The confidence and pride I feel about writing my book has impacted my mind in ways I wasn’t expecting. This year I studied for my California Ornamental Steel Contractor’s License and passed it on my 5th try. Before writing my book, I would never have had the confidence and tools to persevere with reading and writing over the months it took me to pass that test. I am confident that the professional contractor’s license will aid me in creating steel sculptures and installations in my future.

Because of the award I feel that even though I am now 64, I have a future for my art and my life. I can now more easily share my work. Even my sculpture has changed. Storytelling is now a firm part of my visual work. My latest sculpture is a 32 piece chess set with North American animals as the pieces. Each chess piece has it’s own life story, overlaid with the story of the game.

Thank you for the opportunity through this grant to better myself. I am grateful.