:: 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, and a range of seminar courses addressing contemporary art practice. She was awarded the Edward Hodgkins Junior Faculty of the Year Prize in 2011 for meritorious contributions in creative practice, teaching and service. Sisson has been nominated three times for an Outstanding Teacher of the Year award by Clark University students (2014, 2019 and 2020). 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 has served on the Board of Directors for ArtsWorcester, an organization that engages artists and the public to advance and celebrate contemporary art, and the Collections Executive Committee for the Worcester Art Museum. She is a member of the Dark Room, a race and visual studies collaborative research cluster, and a fellowship recipient at Brown University's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. Sisson has exhibited her paintings, drawings and prints internationally, including the Teda Contemporary Art Museum, Tianjin, China; The Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New Jersey; and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her work is in numerous public and private collections; among them, Brown University's David Winton Bell Gallery, and the Worcester Art Museum. Toby Sisson's home and studio practice are located in Providence, Rhode Island. ::
:: 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