Tom, the sculptor

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Today is Tom day. Inhabiting the memory of this dear friend after learning he was killed last week  as a pedestrian in New York City, hit by a speeding motorcycle. He was only a few blocks from home. His many friends, family members, former students and fans are bereft.

I knew Tom McAnulty as a student at Indiana University. He was a grad student in sculpture and ten years older, carving limestone from the local quarries while studying with sculptor Jean Paul Darriau. I was a printmaking undergrad. We met, oddly enough, in the gym. Then as now, Tom loved to talk and tell stories in his Philly accent. People gravitated towards him.

Later we met again when we worked together on a CETA arts project in Bloomington in 1978, designed to provide employment to local artists and study the economic development potential of arts in southern Indiana. A Practical Graduate School for me.  Four of us were in charge of developing arts workshops for non-traditional settings. We had a mandate but no guidance. Mostly, it was about sitting around and talking philosophy while hyper-caffeinated in the Chinese restaurant across the street, which served hot flaky Hoosier biscuits and honey in the morning. Later, we did teach those workshops- at a UAW labor union in Indy. Tom taught drawing, showed up in his Datsun pickup and quickly caught grief for his choice of car. I taught macrame. While we were there, one of our fellow coworkers, a photographer named Kathleen, took this picture of Tom, myself and one other co-worker. She had an uncanny ability to create a mug shot view in every portrait she took, and this one is no exception. Three funny, sunny people looking like we’re up against a wall. Seeing this photo today, despite what seemed to be it’s irrelevance to the tenor of our lives, there’s the youthful beauty long transformed.

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As the youngest child, he was designated to become the Jesuit priest in his family of about 10 siblings. He told me that he discovered art while in the military, where he worked producing molds for teeth, then studied drawing at night while working. Went to Philadelphia College of Art, the first in his family. Later as a beloved professor at Adelphi University, Tom taught many students who were also the first in their families to go to college.

My last visit with Tom and Mary in Bloomington was in 1979, where we talked the wonders of family life, me with an infant, Tom with his daughter Kathleen and older son who was six at the time.

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Above and below, Mary and Tom McAnulty at my wedding, 1978

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Visiting Tom, Kathleen and Stephen, with my own infant son

Tom was not a great correspondent, but every once in a while I’d get a postcard from his latest show, or the opening for the Altar at St Meinrad’s. By then I was working in textiles: weaving, printing, taking my printmaker-ly instincts to a fabric substrate. I tried to plan a trip to NY to see the Frank Stella show at MOMA, but demands of life with three children complicated things. John, my late husband, stayed with Tom and Mary while attending a conference, bringing back more stories and a framed drawing.

Then, thirty five years later, I finally spent an afternoon with Tom, meandering through Central Park, sitting on the bench in tribute to Jean Paul Darriau. Looking at art at MOMA. Nothing had changed except the color of his hair. Our meander was a tune played by artists, inhabiting the small details of what we saw, both old and new. Seeing the MOMA sculpture garden, then Tom explaining all the provenance of carved stone features in Central Park. It was spring, a treasured memory.

Tom on Jean Paul Darriau’s bench in Central Park.

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Decided to draw Tom’s relief bronze given to me in the 1980s today. A vital part of my 100 Drawings of Objects.

Although we didn’t have proximity in life, the connection was there always, always holding a promise of return. Thinking of you and your family. Love the picture of you with your grandsons sitting on the bench in the Museum. Miss you, friend.

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Tom loved Giacometti, here in the Sculpture Garden at MOMA

2 Comments

  1. Peter Chametzky January 21, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    Nice tribute. I was a colleague of Tom’s at Adelphi in the 1990s. Very saddened by the news. My father was a friend of Darriau’s at U. of Minnesota in the early 1950s, when Darriau was doing his MFA and my father his PhD. Both Brooklyn College grads. I just let him know about the Central Park bench.

    • Astrid Bennett January 21, 2016 at 4:04 pm #

      Thanks, Peter. Tom was so enamored of that bench and helped to get it installed there. Nice story.

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