An intense devotion to art that would take Alton Tobey on a lifetime journey spanning over six decades, and on stylistic artistic adventures that would encompass centuries of art, began when he was a young boy of only three. The artist himself recounts with a twinkle: "I became an artist by bugging my mom. My art career actually began under the kitchen table. My mother wanted to get me out of her hair while she cooked, so she laid out some paper and pencils on the floor under the kitchen table."
That was in Middletown, Connecticut in 1917. Little did Rose Tobey know that with these pencils and paper in this impromptu kitchen studio -- she had set her son upon a life path that would lead to his becoming one of the most prolific and diversified artists of the 20th century. She would however, soon take note that there was something exceptional happening; and she became a big encourager of her son's talents. In a 1981 magazine interview, Tobey recalls:
"My mother, particularly was very supportive. I can remember being underneath the kitchen table at a rather tender age doing some drawing. It was a large table and there was a forest of legs surrounding me. I can hear what my aunt's saying to my mother: 'What have you got against the boy? He's going to die in a garret in Greenwich Village. He's intelligent, why don't you make him a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman?' And I can remember my mother replying, "If he wants to be an artist, let him be an artist'."
His mother's faith in Alton's talent and perserverance was confirmed soon after the family moved to New York City. Alton, at the tender age of nine, won a New York Metropolitan Museum of Art scholarship to attend night classes there. Other awards followed, culminating in 1934 in a four-year scholarship to the prestigious Yale University School of Fine Arts, the alma mater of such famous artists as Motherwell, DeKooning, Pollock, Kline and many others.
With the interruption of his work and studies by World War II, Tobey's talents were put to use by the Air Force; as men with artistic aptitude were needed to make blueporints for fighter plane parts. Due to Tobey's quick-start mastery, he was asked to teach these courses. He also filled the Air Force's need for a teacher of spatial geometry, which was a natural for him as a renaissance artist and a born teacher. During the course of his service he also authored an Army Guide on Camouflage. After his service, he returned to Yale, and completed his masters degree in fine arts. Enamoured with the idea of passing on his knowledge and abilities to others, he accepted Yale's invitation for him to teach at the university. This passion for teaching would follow him through the rest of his life.
Early Commissions and Murals
During these early years, Tobey worked on portrait commissions,
won awards for two murals in public buildings in Hartford and
New Haven Connecticut, (see the Hartford and the Camp Field
murals on his Murals page) and pursued an active teaching career,
both at Yale and privately.
Born: Middleton, CT