• 80 creative years
By Christina Whiting
Homer artist Toby Tyler has never been one to color within the lines. During his 86 years, he’s worked hard to create a life of adventure, fueled by his passion for nature, drawing, painting and community service. Tyler could be credited with pioneering Homer’s reputation as an art community, though he’d likely not acknowledge the credit.
Tyler was born in New York City in 1927 and raised near Sacramento, Calif. His parents nurtured his artistic interests early on, outfitting his room with a desk and a drawing table. A great, great aunt who was an accomplished artist also recognized his creative potential, leaving him some money when she passed away.
While Tyler was already beginning to explore life as a young artist, these affirmations nudged him further down this road.
“As a kid, I loved sketching and drawing the landscape around me,” Tyler said. “When others were taking notes, I was doodling in the margins.”
He took art classes throughout high school and was studying art at college when World War II broke out. He joined the Navy, went to boot camp and was sent to Japan.
When the war ended less than a year later, Tyler returned to California and obtained his degree in art and education. He began teaching at the same school he had attended as a youth, but after a few years, grew restless. A teacher who had been to Kodiak encouraged Tyler to visit Alaska, and in the spring of 1953, he applied for a teaching job in Alaska. He was offered a one-year position in Nikolski, to begin that fall.
“When I flew up, I had no idea where I was going,” Tyler explained. “I was told to fly to Anchorage, take a bus or train to Seward and then board an expansion boat to the Aleutian Islands.”
At Nikolski, a small, Aleut community located on Umnak Island at the tip of the Aleutian Chain, Tyler spent the year teaching grade school to 11 students. He took the kids on hikes across the island, teaching them to identify plants. In his spare time, he drew and photographed the landscape.
As the school year came to a close, locals encouraged him to apply for a job in Homer. He got a job to begin teaching that fall. After a few years, the feelings of restlessness returned.
“I wanted to work on my art full time,” Tyler said. “I knew that would make me happy.”
In 1962, Tyler rented the 8×10 cabin adjacent to the Alaska Wildberry Products store, quit teaching and lived and worked in what would be his first Homer studio, “The 8×10 Gallery.”
His original wildflower and landscape paintings filled the cabin — even on the ceiling. Tyler was successful and made a name for himself. After living and working in the studio for thirteen years, he had to vacate when the store and cabin were sold.
Looking for another studio, Tyler acquired and renovated an old log cabin that had originally been a homestead. It was burned out, but not destroyed. This became his second Homer studio, which he ran for the next 16 years in the summers. In winters, he ran another studio in California.
In 1991, Tyler closed his studios and donated the cabin to the Kachemak Bay Land Trust. The Land Trust donated it to the Pratt Museum, on whose land it sits today.
“After operating studios for 29 years, I wanted time to enjoy the Alaska outdoors,” he said.
For the next 10 years, Tyler explored Kachemak Bay State Park, sketching and taking photographs. He also began exhibiting his work year-round and in solo exhibits at Ptarmigan Arts, a co-op gallery that he now proudly co-owns, along with several other artists.
As the featured artist at Ptarmigan this month, Tyler’s paintings were inspired during last year’s early fall and long winter.
“I started out the new year feeling bored from being indoors all the time,” Tyler said. “I was trying to figure out what to do.”
What he decided on was creating stylized acrylics, painting the views from his window and from photographs he had taken of his hikes across the Bay; hikes he’s no longer able to take.
“I wanted this exhibit to inspire people to visit the park,” he said. “Especially because I can’t.”
In addition to his art, Tyler serves on the board of the Wynn Nature Center, tends to his garden and occasionally runs into a few challenges.
“I’m trying to get rid of the hemp nettle that’s taking over my yard,” he laughed. “Other than that, I’m just trying to stay alive.”
Tyler’s dedication to a lifetime of creativity is inspiring. His advice to people pursuing their own passions, whatever those may be, is to “just keep at it.”
Clearly, this has worked for him.
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