Tom Bostelle, an influential Chester County artist, died Thursday, Feb. 17, in his Pocopson home studio at the age of 83.Bostelle was a painter, sculptor, and author whose works grace the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., the Delaware Art Museum, the Chester County Historical Society, as well as on the West Chester University campus. His artworkcan be found in Sykes Student Union, Boucher Science Center and Mitchell Hall.
Professor John Baker, Chairperson of the Art department, was a good friend of Bostelle?s and had the pleasure of working with him over the past 15 years.
Baker said, “Tom Bostelle was a true inspiration for so many. He was admired and respected for his commitment to his artistic values and philosophy.”
Bostelle started his artistic career as a teenager and at age 16 he became friends with the artist Horace Pippin. He convinced Pippin to pose for a portrait and that painting is now in the National Portrait Gallery.
Associate Professor of Art, Donna Usher, has her own fond memories of Bostelle. Usher grew up in Downingtown, down the street from Bostelle, and took art lessons from him when she was 12-years-old. Usher described him as being very poetic and said he was a “larger than life figure.” She also said that he was “a heroic figure to the artist community.”
Usher said thatshe remembers seeing him walking in the neighborhood with a dark cape and she always found him very intriguing. During their first encounter when Usher was showing him her drawings, she fondly remembers him going over them and asking her what she wanted to do with her art. She told him that she intended to be an art teacher and she still remembers his colorful response, which was “You?ll be the best little damn art teacher there ever was.”
Bostelle, along with being a great artist, has also been described as a crank, a genius, and an egomaniac, as well as a maverick. At age 17 he had quit school to work as a self-taught artist for the rest of his life. He supported himself and his family by working a series of jobs including house painter and truck driver as well as teaching art students in his home.
Most of Bostelle?s artwork contains what he described as “shadows” which are often life size or larger.
Bostelle said, “My art concerns the human condition of my time, the paradox of life. I see people theatrically as on a stage, fractured and distorted by the times, politics, technology, loss of individuality.” Much of Bostelle?s artwork contains dark subject matter which has both garnered him support and alienated others. His first idea for painting crowds came from his observing a huge gathering of Japanese at Osaka. Bostellesaid, “They were soldiers being dismissed from the army, poor, wretched mass of humanity… there was no order, only an artistic order made by their grouping.”
Bostelle has also describedhimself as having an ego. He has said “I don?t think you can work in the arts without considerable ego, especially when you are struggling to become [an artist].”
Bostelle, being largely independent, preferred to handle his own career as opposed toworking with gallery owners. Inthe late 1960s he established his Aeolian Palace gallery and studio on the Brandywine Creek. For the last three years, his main exhibition space has been in the Garrubbo Bazan Gallery in West Chester.
Baker said “Tom was always a teacher, sharing his aesthetics with all.” Those who have worked with him over the years have described him as being a true inspiration.
Although Bostelle has been battling with emphysema for years, his death came as a shock for many that knew him. He?s survived by two sons, James M., Jonathon T., five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.