Frank X. Tolbert 2, a Texas artist known for his depictions of regional birds, died on Thursday, July 13, 2023 at the age of 77.
Perhaps best known for his Texas Bird Project series, a decade-long project depicting native Texas birds, Mr. Tolbert’s artistic career stretched over 50 years. He began the Texas Bird Project in 2014, when the Flatbed Center for Contemporary Printmaking commissioned him to create eight etchings of birds. This print project expanded to include drawings and paintings of a wide range of birds, including egrets, crows, herons, jays, and pelicans.
In a recent announcement, Flatbed shared about their work with Mr. Tolbert 2: “A great artist and friend to Flatbed, Frank brought his magical way of interpreting the world into the printmaking sphere. We got to know and love him during his many projects at Flatbed. As a painter, he stepped out of his comfort zone into a fishbowl of printmaking zeal and then shook it for all it was worth when he created his Texas Bird Suite of eight large color etchings 2015-2018.”
Mr. Tolbert 2 was born in Washington D.C. on December 17, 1945 to Frank X. and Kathleen (Kay) Tolbert. At the time, his father was a journalist and a Marine, stationed as a guard at the White House. When Mr. Tolbert 2 was young, the family moved to Lubbock and then Dallas, where his father was a longtime columnist for the Dallas Morning News. At the age of nine, Mr. Tolbert 2 joined his father on a road trip around the perimeter of Texas, which was his first experience of the diversity of the state’s ecosystems.
The following year, Mr. Tolbert 2 took art lessons with Otis Dozier at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art) when it was located at Fair Park. Throughout his life, his art continued to be inspired by Mr. Dozier and the other Dallas-based regionalist artists known as the Dallas Nine, among other influences.
In a 2018 interview with Texas Highways Tolbert explained his connection with the state: “I’ve lived all of my life in Texas, and I feel like my art is sort of a visual diary where the folklore of Texas and my personal life are inseparably intertwined. But I’ve also traveled a lot in Mexico, and I see my work as kind of a combination of Otis Dozier’s Wild West heroism and Rufino Tamayo’s magical realism.”
Mr. Tolbert 2 attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas and then went on to study art at Texas Tech University in Lubbock from 1964 to 1969 and at North Texas State (now the University of North Texas) in Denton from 1969 to 1970. During the 1970s, Mr. Tolbert 2 exhibited his work at various galleries in Dallas, where he and his father launched the family business, Tolbert’s Chili Parlor. In 1975, through mutual friends, he met his future wife, artist Ann Stautberg, who was also living in Dallas at the time. The pair married in 1978, and that same year they exhibited their work together at DW Gallery in Dallas. The couple later moved to Houston, where they have been important figures in the local art scene.
Mr. Tolbert 2’s work has been exhibited in solo shows at galleries and venues throughout the state, including William Campbell Gallery in Fort Worth; Kirk Hopper Fine Art, the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, and Eugene Binder Gallery in Dallas; Moody Gallery in Houston; the Galveston Arts Center; and beyond. Additionally, Mr. Tolbert 2’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Witte Museum in San Antonio, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Mr. Tolbert 2’s most recent solo presentation, Live Wire, was presented by William Campbell Gallery; the exhibition showcased the artist’s depictions of grackles. Recently, Mr. Tolbert 2 and Mrs. Stautberg exhibited their work together for the first time since 1978. The show, Ann Stautberg – Frank X. Tolbert 2, was presented by Andrew Durham Gallery in Houston and closed at the end of April.
Mr. Durham told Glasstire, “Frank was part of the pulse of the Texas art scene; he was a phenomenal story teller both verbally and through his work. His use of graphite and oil stick combining raw, sometimes erratic yet meaningful lines blended seamlessly with the bright and dark colors of his work. He was a sponge, always absorbing the world surrounding him, and giving it his X2 twist filled with humor and ambiguity. He was a fearless artist who would take risks in the pursuit of expressing himself through his work.”
In lieu of flowers, Mrs. Stautberg has asked that donations in memory of Mr. Tolbert 2 be made to Glasstire.