Born in Kansas, Emerson moved to New Mexico in 1984 where he lives now. Known for creating both miniature figures (the Little People) from tiny bits of found materials and contemporary furniture from found metals, his works have been collected by the likes of Donna Karan, Alistair Martin, and Agnes Gund. Examples of his work were featured in a 2009 show at the International Museum of Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM.
"Both the furniture and the wee figures I make are meant to be a surprise. If I can surprise myself, I feel assured that surprise will continue in the viewer.... First I find the material. My eyes catch a unique shape discarded on the street (this is where most of my material for the Little People comes from, as well as the desert and the beach) or the unusual color of the patina of a piece of metal. I follow the surprise of this discovery with a gentle coaxing of design. In the case of the furniture I see the finished piece, with surprises coming through the demands of structure and the labor of execution. Creating the Little People is different. Starting with a remarkable little head or torso or a pair of legs, I rummage through the thousands of bits of detritus on my worktable to find the appropriate body parts and fashion accessories to complete each persona. I usually come back to a figure many times over the next days. A few have resolved themselves instantly. The surprises of completion are the same as the first surprises of discovery. There is one thing manifesting. The mystery from beginning to end is the same." Tom Emerson