Most 5th graders are too busy playing games and doing homework to think seriously about the direction the rest of their life will take. But in 1945, in east Toronto, 10-year-old Tom McNeely had already made his decision. "I didn't know exactly what I was heading toward," says Tom today, "but I knew I wanted to work in the arts."
Tom's childhood inspiration came from many sources. "I loved to go to the library as a kid... and I started to see the things... newspapers and magazine... I started to be aware of them... and comic books. And I loved that Tarzan series. The draftsmanship was wonderful!"
"And like most kids do, you try to duplicate what you see."
Tom found an appreciative audience for his early efforts in family members and school mates, but one aunt in particular most profoundly impacted the young boy's development. "My family couldn't afford it, but my aunt enrolled me in a correspondence program from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It was an early introduction course in the fine arts of the world - all periods."
"Then she kept looking for painters who would take me on and give me lessons. Most of them in town said, no, no, let him finish high school and then come and see me. I was still in grade school! But she kept pressing and she finally found a painter, Fred Steiger, who took me on. And I was like a little mascot! I went out to paint plein air with his adult class."
"It was the end of the depression and a struggle for my family to feed everybody, but I didn't know, I was still a kid. So I got a leg up from the aunt... and I sold some paintings - even though I was still in public school - to a paint store" (he chuckles).
"I shouldn't even talk about that. They sold a couple... but they weren't - they shouldn't even have been there."
From the mid-1990's until around the year 2000, I had the great honour and pleasure of sharing studio space with Tom McNeely and several other top Toronto illustrators. This week, as he prepares to launch his book, "Tom McNeely: 50 years of Visual Art", I'm delighted to present a week of images (many of them scanned from the original art) and some biographical details about a great Canadian illustrator; my friend, Tom McNeely.
My Tom McNeely Flickr set.