Editor's note: Joe Dolice provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article, which was rekeyed and retyped without illustrations or captions. The fully illustrated article appears at http://www.dolice.com/Tobey.html. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact Joe Dolice directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Alton Tobey: Illustrator and Painter

by Joe Dolice

 

Some of the most unique and exciting American realistic art of the 20th century was the product of the era known as "The Golden Age of Illustration." Artists such as Norman Rockwell and Frederic Remington are both typical of this period.

Millions of Americans have seen reproductions of the art of Alton Tobey, one of the most famous of today's living illustrators -- in national magazines such as Life, Reader's Digest and in the Golden Book History of the United States series. His public murals are at The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York and in dozens of other public spaces throughout this country and abroad. Few people however, had had the opportunity to see over thirty of his original paintings, including many of his portraits of famous people, at any single time or place before in history.

From October 22nd through November 14th, 2003 The New Rochelle Council on The Arts will present a one-man exhibition of thirty-three of Alton Tobey's original paintings, many of which have never been publicly shown before. The show will be held in the 3000 square foot Lumen Winter Gallery in the lobby of The New Rochelle Library, the site of many major exhibitions in the past by the NRCA, such as their shows of original artwork by Norman Rockwell and by Frederic Remington, both of whom also achieved fame as illustrators.

Alton Tobey was born in Middletown, Connecticut and received his BFA and MFA at the Yale School of Fine Arts and later taught there for four years. He has also taught at the City College of New York and has been juror for many prestigious art competitions. His work is in over 30 museums and in important government, corporate and private art collections. He has had over 50 one-man exhibitions. His work has been published in over a dozen national magazines and books, and he has over three dozen historic murals to his credit.

A reception for the exhibition will be held at the library on Sunday afternoon, November 2, 2003 between 3 and 5 p.m., to which the public is cordially invited. Additional information can be obtained by contacting the show's exhibition's director, Joe Dolice at 212-529-2025 or by email. Hours for the exhibition at The New Rochelle Library are available by calling 914-632-7878.

 

The Paintings

In the 1950's Life magazine decided to run an illustrated series entitled The Epic of Man. An artist was needed who could not only illustrate the works with artistic proficiency, but who could also research each of the historical periods of the series to verify details to be included in the paintings, and depict them with accuracy. In effect, the assignment would require the combined skills of an anthropologist, archaeologist, engineer and historian; in addition to those of an artist.

After many interviews, Life chose Alton Tobey to be this artist. Tobey painted the illustrations for the first of the series, Neolithic Man after extensive anthropological research into the prehistoric age, and after hours of study at the Smithsonian Institution to be sure that all the images he created were as historically accurate as possible. This attention to detail characterizes all his work. American Artist magazine describes Tobey as being "blessed with insatiable curiosity" and having "a consuming passion for knowledge for its own sake [that is] largely responsible for his phenomenal career."

In the course of this career, Tobey has produced hundreds of paintings, dozens of murals and portraits of many notable personalities of both this and past centuries. The images below are some of the original paintings that will be on exhibit at the one-man show of his work in New Rochelle from October 22nd through November 14th.

Tobey's assignments for Life magazine included Neolithic Man, The Mycaenean Age, The Shang Dynasty, and five paintings for The Russian Revolution. (Three of these, above, are in the New Rochelle exhibition.) These and other Tobey paintings were the subject of an extensive article by Eve Medoff on the artist: Alton Tobey: The Artist as Researcher that appeared in the May 1976 issue of American Artist magazine, and from which the above quotes are taken. Dozens of other paintings spanning a period of time from prehistoric to modern ages have been created by the artist for many books and magazines, and his research for detail often sent him to far reaching places to gather information, such as when he went to Peru for his painting of Trephinated Skulls that is part of the collection of The Smithsonian Institution.

 

The Portraits

Almost every artist will admit that the most difficult form of painting is portraiture. A representational painter's proficiency is often judged on the basis of his or her ability to capture not only the likeness, but also the personality of the subject in a portrait. Some of Tobey's portraits in his own personal collection, such as the three shown below, are in the New Rochelle exhibition -- but most are owned by the people who commissioned them, or are on display in museums or in other public places. The far greater number of portraits Tobey executed are in the three dozen murals he created which are spread all over the world.

His mural of 16 Chief Justices, in St. Paul, Minnesota is actually 16 portraits. His mural Roots of Westchester County, in the County Courthouse in White Plains, NY incorporate portraits of important people in the history of Westchester: Andrew O'Rourke, Alfred DelBello, Edward Michaelian, Nelson Rockefeller, Malcom Wilson, Aaron Copeland, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Norman Rockwell and Robert Merrill. In his 1993 The Biography of Thomasville Georgia, Dwight Eisenhower and William McKinley, who were associated with Thomasville are incorporated into the mural. His 1939 The Founding of Hartford Connecticut includes portraits of Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln and many other famous figures from history. His mural commemorating the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, A More Perfect Union, that was commissioned by Chief Justice Warren Berger in 1987 can be seen here, and The Hartford mural in four sections can be seen at The Hartford Public Library website.

"Psychological confrontation is inescapable with Alton Tobey's fragments," wrote Lisa A. Kapp in "Artspeak" (April 16, 1985). It is quite true as these over-size pieces of the faces of the famous hit you with the strength of their captured, magnified essences. One is struck by the intensity of the irony, humor, humanity, intelligence and profundity encountered among these fragments. The black pupil of Picasso's eye, like a black hole of outer space, taking in all that passes its gaze. The brow of Albert Schweitzer furrowed by the concerns of his fellow man. The humorous pun on the thatch of the now Lady Thatcher. The fading Cheshire Cat of a politician whose scripted smiles become his essence. The honesty, solid determination and dependability of Truman conveyed by the famous firmness of his mouth and jaw."

Raymond E. Tubbs, September 1997

 

The American History Series

Starting in the early 1960's, Alton Tobey created three hundred separate paintings for The Golden Book History of The United States, a twelve volume series of encyclopedic books on American history published in 1963 by Golden Press, New York. The images below are some of the original paintings for the series that are part of the New Rochelle Council on The Arts exhibition.

 

About the The New Rochelle Council on The Arts

The New Rochelle Council on The Arts has been a main cultural resource for the 70,000 citizens of the city of New Rochelle and many thousands more in Westchester County for over 25 years. Founded in 1975 and chartered by the State of New York, it is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing cultural events, art exhibitions and educational programs of many kinds to the public.

Major past events of the NRCA have included the publication of a community calendar; and dozens of lecture, performance, theatrical, educational and other important cultural events Among our art exhibitions, of particular note over the years have been:

1981 - A month-long showing of original paintings and other works by Norman Rockwell, who lived and worked for a number of years in New Rochelle, and who used his friends and neighbors there as his models. Over thirty original Rockwell paintings were included in the exhibition, loaned from a number of major New York City galleries; along with a complete suite of original Saturday Evening Post covers from the Rockwell Society of America. A photographic essay on Rockwell's life accompanied the exhibition and the show highlighted a full week of celebrations and events in the city centering on the artist's life and work.

1982 - An exhibition of original cells and other art from Terrytoons, which had its home in New Rochelle, as featured in a major exhibition for the public. Educational and entertainment events about the creation of cartoon films and features were held for students from the community school systems and other visitors.

1984 - An historical exhibition spanning three centuries in honor of Black History Month featured reproductions of some 200 photographs of the first African Americans in New Rochelle. Events such as the involvement of New Rochelle in the Underground Railroad, the history of the integration of the school system, and other educational and performance programs were created. Works were exhibited that had been borrowed from the Schaumberg Library in Harlem and from other sources.

1984 - What Makes Us Laugh was a month-long exhibition of original cartoon work from the Museum of Cartoon Art and other sources. It traced the work of such historic cartoon strips as the Toonerville Trolley, which had its origins in New Rochelle; and the work of Chic Young and Blondie, Maggie & Jiggs, as well as a great deal of other original manuscript material, with educational programs and events.

1988 - The NRCA held a major celebration of the work of artist/sculptor Frederic Remington, who made his home in New Rochelle for a number of years. Original works by the artist were borrowed from the Remington Museum in Ogdensburg, NY; and from other private collections, including the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. A photographic essay on the artist's life was part of the show, and educational programs accompanied this exhibition as typical for all NRCA events.

1989 - 1997 - Many one-man and group shows of original works by both world-famous and local artists were held during these years. Included were Perspectives on Paper (1989) featuring the graphic art of Adato, Arike, Schwartz and Perlmutter; Art of the Portrait (1993) with photographs by Vaccaro and watercolors by Parisi; The Photography Show of original photographs by Roman Vishniac, Arthur Rothstein and Tony Vaccaro; Women in the Arts, Major Latin American Artists and a dozen other shows featured artists of every possible description. An exhibition of art by students from a dozen Westchester high schools, Focus on Imagination was also a major exhibition during this period.

 

Vintage New York

1998 - In celebration of the joining of New York City's five boroughs into one great metropolis in 1898, the NRCA assembled a collection of over 100 etchings, engravings and photographs from private collections, museums and publications such as Harper's and Leslie's magazines from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and presented these as a chronicle of New York City's past 100-year history -- Vintage New York. An illustrated catalog was published, containing a list of all the pictures in the exhibition; and the show traveled to venues in Westchester County; Montauk, Long Island and New Jersey. It was exhibited at Hofstra Museum for six months in 1999, and was at Grand Terminal Gallery in Manhattan in June 2003. It will be shown at Grace Institute in New York City in October and November of 2003. This exhibition is available for loan at no charge to museums, art galleries and other interested organizations. Over twenty pictures from the exhibition can be seen here, courtesy of the New York History.info website, and in a review of the show by Sharon Silvia at About.com. Over three dozen etchings of New York street scenes by Leon Dolice that are in the Vintage New York exhibition can be seen on the Dolice index page.

2001 - A spring art festival was held in the newly created public park adjacent to the New Rochelle Library where the exhibitions are held; and next to the newly constructed 22-story business/apartment complex serving commuters to New York City. It was sponsored by the NRCA and featured local artists and their work. Over thirty artists participated, and hundreds of visitors attended the event.  

 

Fabulous Fakes

2001 - For six weeks from October 19th through November 30th, 2001 the NRCA presented a special exhibition on the subject of art forgery entitled Fabulous Fakes. In addition to a pictorial history of the subject; the council asked 20 artists each to create an actual original work of art in the style of a great old or modern master, from Vermeer to Warhol, as representative of forgery in the arts. Over a hundred images and narrative material was also shown on the history and methods of art forgery over the years. This part of the exhibition, entitled A History of Art Forgery, is also available now as a separate free traveling exhibition. A benefit sale of replica antiquarian and old master prints accompanied the show. Over a dozen of the original "forgeries" created by NRCA artists can be seen here, and the History of Art Forgery exhibition is now on the web here, these pages courtesy of MyStudios.com.

All of the exhibitions above were held in the Lumen Winter Gallery of the architectural award-winning New Rochelle Library, in its 3000 square foot lobby, recently renovated. The NRCA has also sponsored dozens of concerts, theater, dance, film, lecture and other programs at the library's 200-seat theater, within the city and county school systems, at New Rochelle City Hall, and at theaters, concert halls, colleges, and at other art centers throughout the community.

All activities of the New Rochelle Council on The Arts are open to the public and are free of charge. Sponsors of these events have included The New York State Council on the Arts, many private individuals, corporations, and benefactors such as Viacom, Texaco and the Michael and Helen Schaffer Foundation. The NRCA welcomes inquiries from organizational, corporate or educational institutions regarding sponsorship, traveling exhibitions and participation in our events. For more information, call 212-529-2025 or send us an email.

 


Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2003 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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