Pioneering Carthage artist Bob Tommey dies at age 92

Bob Tommey

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Carthage has lost one of the pioneers who helped put the city on the map as an arts mecca.

Bob Tommey, 92, died Monday at his home just east of Carthage.

“He was a great friend,” artist Lowell Davis said. “We did the Midwest Gathering of the Artists together for 36 years, me and him and Danny Hensley and Sandy Higgins. He helped put Carthage on the map in the art world.”

Tommey specialized in Western art, painting scenes of cowboys and horses and Native Americans. He was also a sculptor.

He and Bill Snow created the bronze sculpture of Marlin Perkins, the Carthage native and star of the long-running wildlife documentary series "Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom," which stands in Carthage's Central Park.

In 2010 he sculpted and painted the bronze tiger that stands on a pedestal in front of Carthage High School.

Sandy Higgins, longtime friend and co-organizer of the Midwest Gathering of the Artists, said Tommey was a prolific artist in his prime.

“I’m sure most people in Carthage have a piece of his work in their home,” Higgins said. “I know I do. He helped the community. He was a believer in the community, encouraging people to use their hands and their heart and their minds to be good artists. He encouraged so many young people years and years ago.”

Higgins said Tommey was an artist and an art teacher.

“Many artists would not be where they are today if it weren’t for Bob Tommey,” Higgins said. “He was a wonderful friend and a wonderful inspiration to all artists. He helped me found artCentral and taught so many young people to be artists at that old building on Central Avenue.”

Tommey, in an interview in 2015, said he used to doodle and sketch as a kid.

“I was always messing up my books, and I drew those little cartoon things in the corners where you flipped it and it looked like a cartoon, but I had no encouragement,” Tommey said. “All I had was the Saturday Evening Post that came in the mail to the drugstore and it had Harold von Schmidt paintings inside. They were Westerns. Then it had all those artists that would make covers, Rockwell and those others.

“I used to copy those, but I used house paint. I didn't know there was any other kind.”

Tommey served in the U.S. Army right after World War II and spent most of his enlistment at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., making contour maps.

He said he used to spend time in the museums in Washington soaking in the art. He’d also monitor art classes at the University of Maryland and gradually develop his art skills.

After his service in the Army, he went to work for Braniff Airlines and went to art school in Dallas.

He worked at Braniff for 20 years, again making topographical maps, and worked as a self-employed artist at the same time.

He retired from Braniff in 1971 and traveled the country, selling his art at shows and in various galleries before settling down in Carthage.

Tommey, Davis, Higgins and Carthage auctioneer Danny Hensley got together in the 1980s and founded the Midwest Gathering of the Artists, an art show and auction that attracted artists from around the country to Carthage until it ended in 2015.

Tommey also had a hand in starting artCentral, with Higgins, Davis and other artists, in the building on Central Avenue that now houses the Jasper County Health Department.

Andy Thomas, another Carthage artist, said Tommey’s work inspired him to leave the corporate world at Leggett & Platt and pursue a career as an artist.

“I wasn't exactly a student of his, but I took lots of advice from him,” Thomas said. “He opened up his studio to virtually any artist who wanted his help. He was awfully good about that. I would go out, when I first started painting, every couple of months those first few years and seek his advice. He was free with his advice and also very encouraging.”

Thomas said Tommey could be gruff in public, but he loved to talk and was a natural teacher.

“Truly he loved to share what he knew,” Thomas said. “And he had firm ideas that would help young artists. He ran a Friday night painting class at artCentral that ran for many, many years and started a lot of people in art. He showed me how to paint a rock one time. The color temperatures had to be so; he would explain why each rock had so many shades. It was eye-opening. It was what gave his work that three-dimensional look, and I used those ideas in my work.”

A memorial service will be conducted at 2 p.m. Thursday at Ulmer Funeral Home in Carthage.

Contributions may be made to Bob Tommey Memorial Fund in care of Ulmer Funeral Home.