Thomas King, Recipient of the 2018 SI Heritage Award

Arts and Entertainment

March 10, 2018

From: Staten Island Arts

Thriving folklife relies on unsung supporters and committed heritage-bearers: ordinary, yet outstanding, people who carry forward traditions, who serve as repositories of place-based knowledge, who master deep skills and creative practices, and who themselves rarely get credit for these aspects of their contribution to the social life around them. The Staten Island Heritage Award, presented by Staten Island Arts Folklife, honors these deserving individuals or entities who have demonstrated a lifetime of superior stewardship of Staten Island’s living traditions.

This year’s second annual Heritage Award honors a man who recognizes and supports the unique cultural landscape of this 14-mile island, and who is very much a steward of tradition in his own right; he’s a neighborhood institution and a master tradesman, a passer-on of his craft and a storyteller. Tom King is the owner of family business Advance Lock & Key on Hylan Boulevard in Midland Beach, along the island’s East Shore. Over the course of his career, Tom has outfitted retired ferry boats with high-security locks for their use as Rikers Island jail boats and was a contributing author for the book, “From Humble Beginnings. . . Success: 21 Business Professionals Tell What It Takes to Reach the Top.” He has plied the trade of locksmithing on Staten Island for 50 years, embodying the skilled knowledge and craftsmanship of his occupation, working skillfully with metal and electronics as much as with people.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Tom helped Staten Islanders get their belongings and valuables out of safes, helped them gain access to their vehicles, and set them up with new keys, turning him into something of a local hero. His own store, a neighborhood staple, flooded with over six feet of water during the storm. And yet, he gallantly rebuilt. When asked why, he said, “I had no other option. That’s what we do when we care about something and something is ours. We don’t back down to a little bad luck. It’s our duty to overcome." Tom still runs his key shop full time.

Over the years, Tom has been a contributor to and supporter of SI Arts Folklife program, hosting programs in his shop, contributing to the oral history project Trouble the Water, and participating in the Working Waterfront Initiative as a facilitator for the History Harvests (below) that accompanied the opening exhibition, Memories Hold.

Tom’s life work, and his renown as a teller of personal stories of culture and resilience, demonstrate the deeper significance of a locksmith’s work: keeping safe that which matters to us most. It’s this sensibility that shows in his lifetime of stewardship to that which matters most to Staten Island. An early folklorist, Benjamin Botkin, used to talk about the complexity of culture and our inability to fully unlock its mysteries, by saying that “culture, like love, laughs at locksmiths.” In this case, we think we can say that the cultural life of Staten Island relies on a locksmith. Tom [excuse the pun], thank you for being key to the East Shore community and to Staten Island.