Toby Thompson memorial exhibition at RIT University Gallery

Renowned industrial designer started degree-program at RIT and taught for 28 years

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“Exhilarating,” mixed media on clayboard 2008 by Toby Thompson.

Autobiographical in nature my art celebrates
my love of life and the curiosity that drives me.

—Toby Thompson, RIT professor emeritus

Toby Thompson is known by his initials, T.T. or “Big T,” and it’s easy to spot a significant number of his “T” letters in his abstract graphic artwork on view in a memorial exhibition at Rochester Institute of Technology’s University Gallery.

“Memories, Observations, Experiences, Obsessions” highlights Thompson’s most recent works before he passed away in 2012 at the age of 79. The exhibition will be held from Oct. 1 through Dec. 14, and the public is invited to an opening reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11.

Born in Norway, Thompson emigrated to the U.S. in 1934 and began his teaching career at RIT in 1968. He received his M.S. degree in fine arts from RIT in 1975, was later appointed chair of industrial, interior and packaging design, and held that position until his retirement in 1996.

“My dad left a profound legacy for students, colleagues, friends, and people in the community,” says his daughter, Kelly Thompson Waldt. “His joie de vivre was a common thread shared by many people’s messages and will be evident to those who enter the gallery. We wanted to share with all those lives he touched, all who loved him and give back to the institute he gave so much to.

“We also wanted to honor him with a show of his work: paintings, graphics and collages that he worked so passionately on over the years and up until the very end.”

There are nearly 40 pieces of artwork in the show, and some of it will appear “puzzling” to the viewer.

“You have to figure it out; my dad used fonts and lettering and designs that make you stop and think,” says Waldt. “He was very creative and would often work on several canvases at the same time.”

During his career, Thompson left a lasting imprint with his clients—Kodak, Xerox, General Motors and Honeywell—but especially with students at RIT where he taught for 28 years.

Marcus Conge, who graduated from RIT with a degree in industrial design in 2002, sent this condolence to Thompson’s family:

“Rest in peace to the mentor of many in the field of design—the man who had the super power to light up a room with a smile; the teacher who had the patience and care to explain and share his knowledge and experiences with so many; the storyteller who always had a lesson to pass; to a friend who I will miss.”

Waldt says her father never lost his sense of spirit even in the face of living with cancer. A few pieces in the show, “Forget Me Not” and “Anxious,” deal with his journey through two craniectomies followed by radiation.

As Thompson explained his work in 2010, “Thornton Wilder searched for ‘solitude without loneliness.’ I did the same. We both found it in different places. He became a novelist and wrote a best-selling book. I’m doing the most satisfying art I have ever done.”

University Gallery is located in James E. Booth Hall adjacent to RIT’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies—home to the entire archive of graphic and product designs by renowned international designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For information, contact University Gallery Manager Jessica Erickson at 585-475-2404 or