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Abraham Joel Tobias papers, 1913-2000

Abraham Joel Tobias papers, 1913-2000

Tobias, Abraham Joel, 1913-1996

Muralist, Painter

Collection Information

Size: 2.8 linear ft.

Summary: The Abraham Joel Tobias papers date from 1913 to 2000 and measure 2.8 linear feet. Through project and exhibition files, printed material, correspondence, and photographs, the collection provides an overview of Tobias's career as a painter and muralist in New York City.

General correspondence regards mural proposals, exhibitions, professional activities, and museums' acquisitions artwork by Tobias. A file of correspondence with the Fine Arts Federation of New York concerns efforts to recognize murals by Irving Block, James Brooks, Philip Evergood, Abraham Lishinsky, José Clemente Orozco, and Max Spivak as landmarks; it also includes minutes of meetings, 1988-1995, that reflect Tobias's service as a board member. Other correspondence is with friends and artists including Edward Caswell, George Gaber, Filia Holtzman, Vincent La Gambina, and Alton S. Tobey.

Project files document murals such as: "The Four Freedoms," Midwood High School, Brooklyn, N.Y., honoring students and teachers who died in World War II (circa 1946); "Birth," for the maternity ward at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City (1951-1953); and "Medical Science and Medical Research," Long Island Jewish Hospital (1954). The Science and Engineering project file (1958) contains a patent certificate for striated plastic, a material Tobias used in two murals. Also of interest is correspondence with the Harman Foundation regarding a documentary film about Tobias's use of ethyl silicate for outdoor murals. Among the exhibitions documented are: "Plastics U.S.A.," "New York WPA Artists Then and Now," and "Abraham Joel Tobias: Sculptural Paintings of the 1930s."

Printed material consists of announcements, invitations, solo and group exhibition catalogs, and clippings relating to Tobias's artistic career. Also found are pamphlets he designed for the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Photographs are of Tobias's artwork and the artist with friends and family. There is a video recording of an interview with Tobias conducted by Brendan Gill in 1995.

Biographical/Historical Note

Abraham Joel Tobias (1913-1996) was a painter, muralist, and educator in New York City. He was a pioneer in the use of shaped canvases.


Donated 2001 by Carolyn Tobias, Tobias' widow.

A Finding Aid to the Abraham Joel Tobias Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Abraham Joel Tobias (1913-1996) was a painter, muralist, and educator in New York City. He was a pioneer in the use of shaped canvases.
A native of Rochester, New York, Tobias came to New York City to study at the Cooper Union School of Art, 1930-1931, and at the Art Students League, 1930-1933. He worked for the Federal Arts Project,1938-1940, where he continued his training as a muralist, working with artist and technicians.
During World War II, Tobias served in the armed forces. He was an art director with the Intelligence Division, Army Air Force, and in 1945 was employed as a graphic designer for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Tobias was artist-in-residence and served as instructor in painting and drawing at Adelphia College, Garden City, Long Island, 1947-1957. He also was was a visiting lecturer at various schools including Howard University, Brooklyn Museum Art School, Pratt Institute Art School, as well as at colleges in Illinois and Kansas.
Tobias completed over ten mural commissions for governmental agencies and educational institutions, including: United States Post Office, Clarendon, Arkansas; Howard University, Washington, D.C.; James Madison High School, Brooklyn, New York; Beth Israel Hospital, New York City; Domestic Relations Court Building, Brooklyn, New York; and Adelphi College, Garden City, New York. In 1962, Tobias began
The History of Science
mural for the lobby of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn; it was never completed.
Tobias experimented with diverse materials such as terrazzo and mosaic for mural application. He also broke new ground with the use of ethyl silicate paint as a permanent medium for outdoor murals. In 1958, he patented striated plastic, a pliable material used to achieve an effect similar to stained glass.
He participated in many solo and group exhibitions. In 1935, Tobias presented his shaped canvas painting in the "Sculptural Painting" exhibition at Delphic Studios in New York City. In 1987, Tobias was recognized for his earlier pioneering work with a retrospective exhibition, "Abraham Joel Tobias: Sculptural Paintings" at The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers University. Other exhibitions included: "Plastics U.S.A.," the United States Information Service's exhibition in Moscow (1961); "New York City WPA Art," Parsons School of Design, New York City (1977); "For a Permanent Public Art," Tweed Gallery, New York City (1989); and "The Technological Muse," Katonah Museum of Art, New York (1991).
Tobias's professional memberships included the Architectural League of New York, National Society of Mural Painters, and New York Artists Equity Association. He served on the Board of Directors for the Fine Arts Federation of New York from 1988-1996. He won the Architectural League Award in 1952. The Art Commission of the City of New York recognized Tobias, posthumously, for distinguished service to public art.
Abraham Joel Tobias married Carolyn Pratt in 1949; the couple had one daughter. Abraham Joel Tobias died in Rego Park, New York, in 1996 at the age of 82.
The collection is arranged as 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1913-1996 (Boxes 1, 4; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1933-1997 (Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 3: Project and Exhibition Files, 1938-2000 (Boxes 1, 2, 4, OV 5; 1.6 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings, circa 1928-1992 (Box 2; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1913-1999 (Boxes 3, 4; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Artwork, circa 1990s (Box 3; 1 folder)
Series 7: Photographs, 1929-1970 (Box 3; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 8: Video Recording, 1995 (Box 3, 1 folder)
Donated 2001 by Carolyn Tobias, Tobias' widow.
Processing Information
This collection was fully processed and a finding aid prepared by Carla de Luise in 2006.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Abraham Joel Tobias papers, 1913-2000. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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