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Oral history interview with Harold Tovish, 1997 November 13-1998 April 7

Oral history interview with Harold Tovish, 1997 November 13-1998 April 7

Tovish, Harold, 1921-2008

Sculptor, Painter

Collection Information

Size: 3 sound cassettes (4 hr., 42 min.) : analog.

Format: Originally recorded on 3 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 9 digital wav files. Duration is 4 hr., 42 min.

Summary: An interview of Harold Tovish conducted 1997 November 13-1998 April 7, by Robert Brown, for the the Archives of American Art, in Tovish's home and studio, Boston, Massachusetts.

Tovish discusses his kinetic sculpture of the 1960s, which mostly didn't actually move but gave the illusion of motion; his return to kinetic work in the 1970s and early 1980s; his creative process; acceptance of death; his confidence in the role of art and his own work, despite the lack of a traditional broad base of support; a sculptor in residence at the American Academy in Rome, 1966; slow working procedures; his disenchantment with most modern art that employs technology; admiration for the formal economy of minimalist art and its influence on him; the absence in his work, for the most part, of overtly political themes, yet the presence of moral stances stemming from his Depression background and anti-Vietnam War protests; his left wing political views; the artificiality of exhibitions; desirability of artists organizing for mutual benefit and discourse; the transitoriness of fame of such once-noted artists as Hyman Bloom and William Zorach; avoidance of friendships with museum curators; comparisons of his teaching experience at Boston University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

His 1990 exhibition at Boston University and Terry Dintenfass Gallery, NYC; self-portraits and variations on them; the positive effect of the patronage of Sinclair Hitchings, prints and drawings curator at the Boston Public Library, regarding Boston artists; the neglect of Boston area artists by other Boston art institutions; his 1988 retrospective at the Addison Gallery of American Art; surrendering to his imagination, which he had previously feared doing; social concerns and his work; his avoidance of deliberately political images; the importance of a balanced and frank working relationship with his late wife, the sculptor Marianna Pineda; the professional mores that infused their generation of artists; Philip Guston and the courageous change in his style; and friendship with the writer Doris Lessing.

Further comment on the relationship between Tovish and his late wife, Marianna Pineda; extensive discussion of his actual kinetic sculpture of the mid-1960s; his lifelong practice of not belaboring an idea but moving onto something new, and the detriment to his career that these frequent changes have probably been; the major change in his sculpture in the early 1980s; a subsequent period of drawing in the late 1980s which was triggered by frightening attacks of vertigo, included images from a brain scan; interest in anatomical parts; the infrequency of sculpture exhibits; a consistent thread of "darkness" or apprehensiveness in his work; his acceptance of his first commission, a monument to the painter John Singleton Copley for Boston's Copley Square; current development of whimsical "mutations"; feeling lucky in having obtained recognition and a certain amount of respect, and being eager still to work every day.

Biographical/Historical Note

Harold Tovish (1921-2008) was a sculptor in both Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.


This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.


Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

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Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Harold Tovish, 1997 November 13-1998 April 7. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.