Anyone who has ever been to the Community Closet Thrift Store recognizes the tall, imposing figure of Blackfoot. He is known by the singular name, and he is immediately recognizable by the deep voice, and the perennial cap, beard, jewelry and medicine bag. Around town, you can see him traveling with one of his hand-carved walking sticks.
While the name might suggest Native American origins, Blackfoot says that it comes from a nickname he has had since he was 14. Although he was adopted as an infant, he knows that his birth parents were from Turkestan and Siberia, and that his mother died when he was born. With his adopted parents, he spent much of his growing up years in Oregon.
He came to Livingston to visit his friend Jimbo in 2003 and stayed, starting at the Community Closet almost immediately after arriving; and soon after he became part of RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program). His service at the store includes stocking items—you may have seen him bringing bins to the floor at 10:00 on a Saturday after the morning half-price sale.
When someone buys furniture or other large items, Blackfoot is there to help. “I do the heavy lifting,” he says. “I also keep an eye on things,” he adds, referring to his role as an informal security guard. He keeps an eye on the store’s goods in other ways, testing electronics and appliances to make sure that they are working before they are put out for sale.
Blackfoot is also a wood carver, and over the years his totem poles and walking sticks have been at Livingston stores and galleries. He currently has a large piece at Chadz, and b. civilized carries the totems in many sizes. You might think that his interest in totems and his wood carving skills came from exposure to Northwest native art, but he says that he just started carving totem poles at age six. The following year, his grandmother put a mask that he carved in a Medford, Oregon store and it sold right away. Today he gets his wood “from the shoulders of the river.” He needs no external influences: “The piece is already in the wood. It’s alive. I can hear the wood tell me if it’s ready or not.”
Blackfoot is at the Community Closet every morning until noon, from Monday through Saturday. But he promotes the store all of the time, “There is just as good second hand stuff as there is new. People who need something can do as well or even better at a second hand store.” When asked what his favorite thing to do in all the world is, Blackfoot says: “Being a helping hand.” That he is.