:: Toby Sisson was a bartender for 30 years but wanted to be an artist all her life. One day in midlife, she took a leap of faith toward her dream — cut back to part-time, withdrew her savings, and entered art school. Sisson earned her BFA, Magna Cum Laude, and was Co-Valedictorian of her graduating class, one of only a handful of minority students at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. With a focus on drawing, painting, public art and teaching, she received her MFA from the University of Minnesota.
In 2009, Sisson joined the faculty of Clark University in Worcester Massachusetts where she teaches Beginning and Advanced Drawing and Painting, Studio Topics and Senior Thesis seminars. She was awarded the Edward Hodgkins Junior Faculty of the Year Prize in 2011 for meritorious contributions in creative practice, teaching and service. Sisson was twice nominated for an Outstanding Teacher of the Year award by Clark University students (2014 and 2019). She was granted tenure in 2015 and received the Hayden Faculty Fellowship for deep and sustained engagement with the Clark community. She currently serves as the Director of the Studio Art Program in the Department of Visual & Performing Arts.
Outside of the university, she is on the Board of Directors for ArtsWorcester, an organization that engages artists and the public to sustain and celebrate contemporary art; serves on the Collections Executive Committee for the Worcester Art Museum; and is a member of the Dark Room, a race and visual studies collaborative research cluster. Toby Sisson's home and studio practice are located in Providence, Rhode Island. She exhibits her paintings, drawings and prints internationally. ::
:: Born in 1956 on the south side of Chicago near an el train station and raised in Minneapolis, a few blocks from a small creek that flows into the Mississippi River, Toby Sisson's life and artwork is a synthesis of disparate influences. Her father, from the delta region of Mississippi, was a descendent of enslaved Africans, European settlers, and Cherokee Indians. As a young man, he followed the river north and often recounted stories about the jazz musicians he met along the way.
Sisson's mother, a Minnesota native and child of German immigrants, was a self-taught naturalist and instilled in her a love of the prairie landscape. Among Sisson's favorite childhood memories are the times spent scat singing Louis Armstrong songs with her father and burying seeds in the garden with her mother. Her parent's ability to bridge their contrasting natures and cultural differences has always inspired her. Revisiting these influences informs the major themes in her work — the connections between otherness and familiarity, dissonance and beauty, hybridity and improvisation. ::
"Art is a quest for understanding about how the world works rather than perpetuating the norm of right and wrong or mere decoration"
— David Feinberg
artist, colleague and friend