Westchester School Dedicates Student Murals To Memory of the Late Artist/Educator Alton S. Tobey (1914-2005)

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More than 200 faculty members and students at a local Westchester NY elementary school met on June 19th to to honor a famous artist who had dedicated much of his time during his life to teaching them his art. Five student murals created over 20 years at the school were dedicated to him in a ceremony June 19th, 2006.

The late artist Alton S. Tobey (1914-2005) distinguished himself during the six decades of his career as an historical painter and illustrator, with murals created for The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., The National Sea-Air-Space Museum on board The Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York City, at The MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA and at many other museums and public instutitions worldwide. For years, he was also kept very busy as an illustrator for many books and magazines such as LIFE, Readers Digest and many others, for which he made trips all over the world doing research and creating art.

Yet, during all of these busy times, Tobey never forgot the students in his home community of Westchester County, NY; where he constantly did pro bono work as a teacher of art, and participated in many community art projects.    

On Monday, June 19th, just a few days before the close of their school year, the Ridgeway Elementary School in White Plains, NY held a ceremony dedicating five murals that the school’s students had created over more than the past 20 years to this late artist and educator. During his lifetime, Tobey, despite his fame as a nationally famous artist, spent many days mentoring students at Ridgeway and other Westchester County schools teaching art and murals painting. In the 1980s, the program that fostered this effort was called Murals in Art, and it had been sponsored by a number of newspapers and many national and local companies and organizations.

In 1985, in celebration of the Tricentennial of Westchester County, Tobey painted and donated a 12 x 20 foot mural titled Roots of Westchester containing dozens of historical images from the county’s past 300 years, to the White Plains County Court House, where it has been used for many years since then as an educational resource for Westchester teachers and students.

Over this past year following Tobey’s death in 2005, Mrs. Bonnie Ackerman, WINGS teacher at the Ridgeway School, working with the Arts in General Education Program sponsored by the White Plains School District and with the help of three students - Jael Andre, Maggie Noonan and Juan Rodas discovered five murals in the school, and felt the need to bring them and Alton Tobey’s tremendous influence on the murals program to the attention of present-day students, faculty and parents.

It was almost exactly twenty years ago on June 24th, 1986 that Ridgeway’s own fourth grade students’ 4 x 16 foot mural: Past, Present, Future had been completed under Tobey’s guidance had been finished. Now installed in the school’s auditorium, like Tobey’s Roots mural at the Westchester County Court House, it also includes images from American history: the Declaration of Independence and Paul Revere representing the past; The Statue of Liberty and Westchester’s local Kingsland Point Lighthouse the present; and Technology and Children Becoming Adults leading the way to the future.

“Every time we go to the auditorium, which is in constant use,” Mrs. Ackerman said, “we are more and more aware of and observant of the murals and are proud many years later to re-educate others who visit. The children were very excited. They also discovered that their third grade teacher Mrs. Mary Baez was [back then] Mary Dorado, one of the same fourth graders who had created this beautiful art piece....and that also helps it to come all the more alive for them.”

Over 200 students and school faculty members attended the dedication on Monday, June 19th, and a framed collector’s lithograph of Alton Tobey’s Roots of Westchester mural, together with a legend describing the historical figures in it, a gift from David and Judy Tobey, son and daughter of the late artist, was presented to the school. It was a “thank you” to Ridgeway’s teachers and students for remembering their late father’s life and work, and was presented by the curator of the Tobey Collection, who came up from New York City for the special dedication. The Ridgeway students also presented a portfolio of their own work to the Tobey family at the event.

From her home in Chicago, Alton’s daughter Judy emailed her appreciation of the school’s honoring her father’s memory:

“....how wonderful it is to have my dad recognized as having been a person who leaves a lasting impact on so many he crossed paths with, and to know that people appreciate that he was really such a special human being. I think his greatest gift was his ability to treat everyone he met with the same respect...no matter what their ages or abilities.”

Tobey’s work as an educator can be found in his biography on the artist’s website at http://www.altontobey.org along with many images of his murals, historical paintings, famous portraits, illustrations and modern works.

Any teachers or students who worked with Tobey are invited to contact the Tobey family by email to the address shown with this release, with information on their experiences with him, for possible inclusion in an illustrated book on the late artist to be published in the near future.

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Triptych Presented at the Student DedicationTriptych Presented at the Student DedicationThis tryptych, created by elementary school students at the Ridgeway School honoring Tobey's contributions was presented at the dedication ceremony on June 19th.Lithograph of the TobeyLithograph of the TobeyThis 1985 framed 20 x 30-inch lithograph of Alton Tobey's "Roots of Westchester" mural at the Westchester County, NY Court House was presented to the Ridgeway School at the dedication ceremony on June 19th. A legend listing over three dozen of the people and places in the mural accompanied the print, which was a gift from the Tobey family to the school's students in thanks for their remembrance of Alton Tobey and his work.1986 photo of Tobey & student, who is now a teacher at Ridgeway1986 photo of Tobey & student, who is now a teacher at RidgewayThis photo, taken over 20 years ago, is of Alton Tobey with Mary Dorado, who was one of the Ridgeway School's fourth graders who worked on the "Past, Present, Future" student mural. Mary is now herself a fourth grade teacher at Ridgeway.Ridgeway Teacher Bonnie Ackerman with the KidsRidgeway Teacher Bonnie Ackerman with the KidsStudents Jael Andre with Ridgeway teacher Bonnie Ackerman at the microphone while Juan Rodas and Maggie Noonan (to right) look on. The three Ridgeway School students worked with Ms. Ackerman over the past year in rediscovering five murals at the school that wre created by students over the years.Ridgeway Students with school principal & teacherRidgeway Students with school principal & teacher(Left to right): Ridgeway student Juan Rodas, Ms. Evette Avila, Ridgeway's principal, and students Maggie Noonan and Jael Andre are introduced by teacher Bonnie Ackerman during the exchange of gifts at the ceremony honoring Alton Tobey.The Dedication Ceremony at RidgewayThe Dedication Ceremony at RidgewayOver 200 third graders and faculty at the Ridgeway School in White Plains, NY listen attentively as their principal, Mrs. Evette Avila praises their work and reminds them that we all have special gifts to share, and are now keepers of "The Roots of Westchester" and need to learn more about it to share with new students. The 1986 student mural "Past, Present, Future" created by Ridgeway students under Alton Tobey's mentoring is on the auditorium wall in the background.