Toby Sisson met art late in life. Well, later than most. While visiting a friend’s graduate show at CVA in the mid-1990s she had a revelation. “I felt I was in a room that I’d been waiting to enter, an intellectual and emotional space that I’d been waiting to find,” she recalls. “I worked hard from that time on.” And work she did. Following numerous independent workshops and private drawing lessons, CVA accepted her in 1999, at age 42. She graduated with her BFA, Magna Cum Laude in 2003. In 2009, at age 52, she received her MFA from the University of Minnesota where she focused on painting, drawing, and collaborative public art projects.
Continuing her charmed path, in 2010 Sisson was named an Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Clark University in Worcester, MA where she teaches beginning and advanced drawing and painting, senior seminars on studio topics, and thesis. Her independent studio practice has resulted in exhibitions in Midwest and New England galleries. And, she has been named the Director of the Schiltkamp Gallery, Clark University's Visual and Performing Arts Department Gallery. And, if she wasn’t busy enough, her frequent travel to Boston, Providence, and New York City keep her plugged into the larger art world. “I’m happy to be surrounded by world-class museums, colleges, and universities. I have a demanding schedule but the environment is stimulating and my work is immensely gratifying,” she comments.
Abstract but associative, Sisson’s mixed-media paintings explore the symbolic relationship between material, form, and content. Working primarily with encaustic and organic substances found in the natural world, she layers mixtures of wax, charcoal, minerals, and ink onto paper or wood surfaces into which she carves, “as if digging into the muddy riverbank.”
Sisson is also inspired by collaborative public art projects. While in graduate school she worked on the East Saint Paul Gateway Rain Garden and Art Installation. A collaborative project between City departments, community organizations, and artists, the blighted neighborhood received an environmentally healthy and beautiful park in the form of a “riverbed” path made of porcelain tiles. In 2010, she and her students created a mural for Worcester’s Friendly House, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance that serves economically disadvantaged populations. “These public art projects make a tangible difference in their communities and cultivated lasting relationships between students and their local neighborhoods,” she explains.
Sisson is optimistic. “What’s not to like?” she asks. Her office overlooks a picture-perfect New England neighborhood lush with oak and maple trees. “I’ve a full life, with opportunities to do good work and spend time with smart and supportive colleagues,” she states. “I treasure the sheer variety of things I do. I teach students about interesting art and ideas, have a studio to explore my artistic impulses, and hang out with innovative artists.” She lists eating spicy food, drinking good red wine, listening to loud music, looking at pictures, and talking as “fun” activities.
For Sisson, CVA developed her technical skills, ignited her interest in art history, refined her aesthetic sense, and introduced her to theory. “Most importantly, CVA encouraged me to have confidence in myself,” she says. “I deepened my knowledge in graduate school but my undergraduate education at CVA allowed me to invent myself.”
Assistant Professor of Studio Art,