As Artists and as parents, the collaboration of Gene and Rebecca Tobey was a breath of fresh air. Gene & Rebecca not only worked together productively as sculptors, but raised their family of five children and found time to ride horses together along with playing in the hills and the creek bed near home. Artistic success – growing swiftly and tangibly each year – did not rob Gene And Rebecca Tobey of the joys of a contemplative and serene life.

They met in 1984 in Santa Fe, NM, coming from separate coasts and separate lives. Growing up in East Tennessee as the daughter of an Oak Ridge scientist, Rebecca Upton’s work was strikingly different from Gene Tobey’s. He came of age in the red clay canyons of southeastern Utah and chose early to make sculptures and teach art. Rebecca left Tennessee for school in Lowell, MA, and a professional career in Long Island, NY.

The collaboration began with Rebecca acting as assistant on Gene’s sculptures, which evolved from dishes and practical ceramics to stylized animals. “She was my glaze technician,” Tobey explained, meaning the person who applies the glazes before firing. The sculptures in the mid-1980’s were an interesting combination of techniques. Gene Tobey first made a mold of an animal and cut out sections to be superimposed on other parts of the animal. Then, using a steel stylus he engraved designs. Rebecca Tobey did the glazing, imbuing the sculptures with color before the final firing. Over the months, however, Rebecca Tobey slowly began to develop her own techniques and her own ideas about the kind of surfaces that would enhance the three-dimensional qualities of the sculptures.

“In summer of 1987 Gene Tobey had an opening at Presdon Gallery,” she recalls, “I wanted to use colored clay slips instead of glazes. Glazes are chemicals that melt and bleed. They don’t have sharp delineations. I wanted a sharp, crisp finish.” Rebecca Tobey coated sections of two sculptures with clay slip. They were the first in the show to sell. Another was made for a show of fourteen pieces in Vail – and again it was the first to sell. It was magic. “I realized I needed new thoughts and different hands to make different pieces,” said Gene Tobey. Once he realized that Rebecca had moved firmly – and permanently – from a technician into an equally creative artist, Gene called his galleries and instructed them to change the credit to “Gene & Rebecca Tobey.” One or two delayed, resisting the idea of naming two people, but now the artistic marriage is etched into each piece. In Gene’s words, “There are times I don’t like being called an artist because I don’t know the parameters of the term. We’re dealing with our own aesthetic and having fun with it. There’s always something new, and the experiment goes on. I look at Rebecca’s work and feel privileged, not jealous. It’s a blessing when two people work together, not compete but combine. Evolving and changing became our focus. One person takes a step and the other has to take a step to catch up.” In the 1990’s, the Tobey’s began to work in bronze, continuing their tradition of stylized animals.

Unfortunately, Gene Tobey lost his battle with leukemia in 2006. He is a man who will be missed for the contributions that he made to the people around him by giving of his great heart as well as his talent. Rebecca, devastated but strong, continues the legacy of their spirited work in memory of her late husband. In 2010 Rebecca returned to creating in ceramics for the first time in 15 years.

The two had created a style of art that is unique and distinctive. Because of its ingenious simplification of sculptural imagery, the Tobey design is instantly recognizable, and will remain so under Rebecca’s able hand.

Edition Type
Sort By
Products Per Page