Tom Van Sant Biography

View Art by Tom Van Sant

Tom Van Sant, MFA (1931 - 2023) is a sculptor, painter, and conceptual artist. In his professional work he has executed over sixty major sculpture and mural commissions for public spaces around the world. These include the international airports of Honolulu, Taipei and Los Angeles, the civic centers of Los Angeles, Newport Beach and Inglewood, and corporate centers in Taiwan, Manila, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Honolulu and San Francisco.

He had a long association with architect William Pereira and his work has adorned over a dozen Pereira buildings. Van Sant has had fifteen one-man exhibits in the United States, Europe and Australia. His art is represented in public and private collections throughout the world.

Van Sants' professional skills and intellectual interests range to architectural design, city planning, art education and advanced technical invention. His large scale conceptual art projects of the 1980s led to the creation of The GeoSphere Project, an ambitious environmental display system designed to illustrate the issues of Earth resource management.

The GeoSphere Image marks a milestone in cartographic history. It is the first satellite map of the Earth, showing the real world it appears from space. The work required one year of effort on the world's most powerful graphics computers by Van Sant, technical director Van Warren of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and assisted by Jim Knighton and Leo Blume. The image was first published as the title page of the National Geographic World Atlas.

In 1992, Mr. Van Sant created an installation called "the Earth Situation Room", an interactive project which feature visualizations of earth systems and changes. This project was first shown at ECO-92, the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro.

Al Gore cited Mr. Van Sant for his beautiful and useful 3d image of the Earth in the film An Inconvenient Truth.

In the summer of 2007 he participated in the Chicago public art exhibition "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet."

Biography Courtesy of Wikipedia

 A Family story of the Sheets’ and Van Sants’

 Merritt “Muggs” Van Sant sold insurance in the late 1920s from a table set up on one of the stair well balconies in the old Bradbury building in downtown Los Angeles. My father, Millard Sheets met Muggs while he was a student at the Choinard School of Art. Dad was on a morning painting trip and wanted to do a painting of the building’s well known stair case, with people going up and down the decorative iron stairs. While Dad was painting, Muggs stood behind him and watched. Soon Muggs was asking questions about how one learns to paint like that, and Millard began explaining about drawing and painting. They decided to have lunch together, which became an almost 60 year friendship.

 Muggs began going on Millard’s painting trip around southern California, and then began painting himself. They would leave for Mexico the day after Christmas and return the day after New Year’s. In 1931 Muggs’ wife Martha gave birth to son Tom. By the time Tom was a teenager, he also began painting and joined Dad and Muggs on their annual trips to Mexico. Dad had taught both of them to paint, but each quickly moved naturally into their own individual style. During the ten year period that Dad was the Director of the Los Angeles Art Institute, Tom attended and graduated with his MFA degree. Sculpture became Tom’s medium of choice, but turned to painting as a way of finding relaxation and artistic satisfaction.

 Dad’s architectural design projects became a major part of his work, and his ability to combine art as an integral part of his architecture quickly became his focus. In doing so he was able to commission artists to help create sculptures, mosaics and stained glass windows. He also offered artists such as Tom an opportunity to assist him with his painted murals. While spending hours painting together, sitting on scaffolding and adding paint to their enormous canvases, they reminisced about past travels and the times when the three of them spent time in Mexico as the three amigos. The Family history goes on, as I worked with Tom for seven plus years in the 1960s and 70s, and off and on with architectural sculpture projects up until recent years. But that is another story, which is still in the making.

 Tony Sheets



1931 Born Los Angeles, California

1953 B.A., Stanford University

1954-1955  Commissioned Officer, United States Marine Corps, Korea, Japan

1957 M.F.A., Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County

1957-1965  Faculty, Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County

1958-1961 Instructor, Omega Seminars, Adult Education 

1975-76 Creator of Large-Scale Kites 

1978-present   Instructor, Life Drawing Classes, Tom Van Sant studio

1988 Instructor, Life Drawing, Santa Monica College Community Division

1989-2000 Founder and CEO, The GeoSphere Project, for the creation of the

First Satellite Map of Earth, the GeoSphere Globe, the Global Visual Library, and the Earth Situation Room Exhibits

1990 Creator, The First Satellite Map of Earth (The GeoSphere Image), composite map of planet Earth from space, one year in the making.

1991-2000 Development and installation of 7 Earth Situation Room permanent exhibits in 7 countries on 5 continents

2000-2013 Development of commissioned studio sculptures and paintings

2011-2012  Instructor and Mentor, Otis College of Art and Design


Fellow, MIT, Center for Advanced Visual Studies

Founding Director, Los Angeles Mural Conservancy

Founding Director, TIMOCA (21st Century Int'l Museum of Contemporary Art)

Board of Advisors, Artists Equity Association

Instructor, Santa Monica College Community Division


Leonardo Di Vinci Space Art Award - from the National Space Society, the Planetary Society, and the Carnegie Mellon University Studio for Creative Inquiry for a 'lifetime of artistic actions in and with the sky and outer space, including his brightly clear re-envisioning of Earth' (The First Satellite Map of Planet Earth.)

The Golden Brush Award - from Illustrators West for the illustrations of the Howard Fast novel and the 1961 film “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas and Lawrence Olivier.

City of Los Angeles Certificate of Commendation - for creation of the “Goddess of Democracysculpture made in collaboration with other artists in support of the Chinese Democratic Movement.

City of Los Angeles Certificate of Appreciation - for spearheading the first annual Otis College of Art and Design, “Kite Festival,” and 'dedicating his lifetime to professional artwork for display around the globe'.

Numerous Awards of Merit from the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles County and Orange County, for individual projects and a 'Lifetime Award for contributions to architecture'.

Vanguard Award of 1998 - conferred by the Silicon Graphics Corporation for the advancement of computer graphics in the making of the “Tom Van Sant Satellite Map of Earth”, the largest single image created in an interactive computer of its time. 


1956 Union Union,  mural, oil on canvas  6’ x 15’  Retail Clerks Union 770, Los Angeles, California,  

1957 Fire, Water and Earthmural, Italian glass mosaic, 300 square feet-Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County, MFA thesis project

1958 New World Conquest,  Italian glass mosaic inlayed in black marble, two walls, 400 square feet, Mercantile National Bank, Dallas, Texas 

1958 Muskie,  bronze sculpture and fountain, Tyler Bank and Trust    Company, Tyler, Texas

1959 Transportation of Water,  natural rock Mosaic mural, American Pipeand Construction  Company, Monterey Park, California 

1959 Tree of Life,  rock mosaic, 10’ x 25’,  San Marino Congregational Church, San Marino, California 

1960 Eldorado Myth,  glass mosaic, rock mosaic, El Dorado Country Club,  Palm Desert, California

1961 Tom Van Sant Residence, architecture, Los Angeles, California

1961 Children at Play, carved brick, two walls, California Congress of Parents and Teachers, Los Angeles, California 

1961 Great Inventions,  mural, natural stone, Bell City Library, Bell, California

1962 Flying Pair,   epoxy resin, 6’,  Buffums Department Store, Pomona, California


1962 Colors of the Wind,  enamel on copper, Harrah’s Club, Tahoe, California

1962 Sources of Knowledge,  glass mosaic, Home Savings and Loan Association,  Compton, California 

1962 Fullerton City Seal,  glass mosaic , Fullerton City Hall,  Fullerton, California 

1963 Open Hand,  bronze sculpture, 5’, Gibraltar Savings,  Baldwin Hills, California 

1963 Crucifixion and Resurrection,  glass mosaic, two murals 8’x5’,Santa Clara Church Mausoleum, Ventura, California 

1963 Great Moments in History,  acrylic on canvas, 1700 square feet on five walls,  Mt. San Antonio College Library, Pomona, California

1964 The Gulls of Salt Lake City,  bronze, 120 feet high, Prudential Federal  Savings and Loan Association, Salt Lake City, Utah 

1964 Flight Form,  bronze sculpture, 7’, Robert E. Gross Memorial, Forest Lawn, Glendale, California 

1965 Gulls,  bronze sculpture, Prudential Federal, Ogden, Utah 

1965 Spanish Heritage,  oil on wood, Howard Johnson Hotel, Anaheim, California  

1967 Wind Chimes,  aluminum 10’ x 80’,  Robinson’s Department Store,  Newport Beach, California 

1968 Indigenous, sculptured concrete, 1200 square feet on forty walls, Irvine Financial Plaza, Newport Beach, California


1968 Tree of Life, St. Martin's Cross, The Last Supper, plaster cement relief, three walls, Geneva Presbyterian Church, Santa Ana, California

1968 California Migrations, acrylic on canvas, 120’ by 15’, Crocker-Citizens National Bank, Los Angeles, California

1969 Water Fall, glazed ceramic sculptured wall, 80’,  Robinson’s Department Store, San Diego, California 

1969 Flight,  aluminum sculpture, 10 ‘ x 12’, Los Angles Public Library, Huntington Park, California

1969 Bird of Wisdom,  sculptured concrete, 10’ x 20’, Hoffman Motors, Marina del Rey, California 

1970 Founder I, Founder II, 15’x 30’, glazed ceramic tile, Arizona First National Bank, Globe, Arizona 

1971 Celestial Way,  bronze sundial, Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier, California

1971 Industries of Hawaii sculptured concrete murals, five walls,  Davies Pacific Center, Honolulu, Hawaii

1971 Hawaiian Visions,  sculptured concrete murals, seven walls, Kona Surf Resort, Kona, Hawaii

1972 The Word,  sculptured concrete, 25’ x 50’, Inglewood Civic Center,  Inglewood, California

1972 Family Group, nickel and bronze sculpture, 8’x 25’, Union Bank Plaza, Newport Beach, California 

1972 Sail Forms, terrazzo sculpture, 20’x 30’, Yacht Harbor Towers, Honolulu, Hawaii 

1972 Body of Knowledge ceramic sculpture mural , Los Angeles CountyLibrary, Lakewood, California


1972 Forms of Flight,  stainless steel, sculpture  collection seven pieces, Transamerica Pyramid Building, San Francisco, California

1972 Celebration of Life,  ceramic tile on steel, 70’x6’,  Orange County School of the Arts, Santa Ana, California

1972 Shells and Gods,  oil on canvas mural, Davies Pacific Center,  Honolulu, Hawaii 

1972 History of Flight sculptured concrete, eighteen panels, Republic of China Civil Aeronautics Building, Taipei, Taiwan 

1973 Luau,  sculptured concrete, 80’ x 13’, Honolulu International Airport, Honolulu, Hawaii 

1974 Los Angeles Civic Center Pedestrian Bridge, sculptured concrete, Los Angeles Civic Center,  Los Angeles, California

1974 Open Hand, fountain, ceramic on steel, Los Angeles Civic Center, Los Angeles, California  

1974 Vietnam  Memorial,  iron, bronze, and foliage, 8’x 20’, California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, California   

1974-78  Kites, design, construction, demonstrations and traveling exhibits:  US, UK, Holland, France, Ireland, Australia

1976 Pour,  sculptured concrete 10’x 12’, Hawaiian Dredging and Construction Company,  Honolulu, Hawaii 

1976 Flight of Fancy,  fiberglass and fabric sculpture, 15’ x  20‘,  Century Park Sheraton Hotel, Manila, Philippines

1977 Tapas,  sculptured concrete, 10’ x 40’. Wailea Beach Hotel, Maui, Hawaii 


1979 Authors of the Sea,  concrete, eight walls, Bank of Newport BeachNewport Beach, California 

1980 Reflections from Earth, reflected sunlight from the Earth recorded by the LANDSAT satellite, Mojave Desert, California

1981 Ryan’s Eye, scanned electrons, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

1982 Desert Dreams, paper mache 10’ x 20’, Wells Fargo Bank, Los Angeles, California 

1984 Silent Form, fabric and fiberglass, thirty-six piece, Los Angeles International Airport, Thomas Bradley Terminal, Los Angeles, California 

1984 Birds of Prey,  concrete murals, two walls, William Allen residence, Provo, Utah 

1985 Portrait of King Vidor,  bronze sculpture,  16”,  Founding Director,Directors Guild of America, Hollywood, California 

1986 Sea Form,  sculptured concrete, Paul Briles residence, Playa del Rey, California

1986 Eyes on Earth, reflected light and satellite imagery, Pacific Design Center, Hollywood, California

1988 Dove stained glass window, 25’ x 25’,  Glenkirk Presbyterian Church, Glendora, California

1988 Sky Cross sculptured wall, 50’ x 15’,  Glenkirk Presbyterian Church, Glendora, California

1989 Pelican Wall,  sculptured concrete, 15’ x 120’  City of Newport Beach,Newport Beach, California


1989 Goddess of Democracy, polystyrene replica of The Goddess of Democracy, erected by Chinese Students in Tiananmen  Square, Beijing, destroyed by the Chinese Army, 23’ temporary installation, Los Angeles, California

1989 The GeoSphere Project founded by Tom Van Sant for creation of the Satellite Map of Earth, the GeoSphere Globe and the Earth Situation Room Exhibit for science and education centers in USA, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Brazil, and South Africa

1990 The Earth From Space (The GeoSphere Image), the first satellite map of planet Earth, one year in the making, completed April 15, 1990, selected as the title page of the 1990 National Geographic World Atlas, adopted by NOAA, NASA and the United Nations, becomes the most widely distributed single image in the world 

1991 GeoSphere Globe, 6’6” the first reality model of Earth and the Global Visual Library, an electronic geographic program for monitoring global resources and global change 

1992 Earth Situation Room Environmental Exhibit for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (The Earth Summit), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 

1993 Earth Situation Room Permanent Environmental Exhibit, Brazilian National Center For Space Research, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Purchased by the United Nations as a gift to Brazil for hosting the UN Conference on Environment and Development of 1992.

1994 Earth Situation Room Permanent Environmental Exhibit, Hemiji Science Center, Osaka, Japan 

1995 Earth Situation Room Permanent Environmental Exhibit, Toho Science Center, Nagoya, Japan 


1996 The First Satellite Map of Earth, satellite map of Earth completed at higher resolution (1km)

1996 Earth Situation Room Permanent Environmental Exhibit, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.

1996 Completion of The Earth From Space, satellite map of Earth at 1km resolution 

1996 Earth Situation Room, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.

1997 GeoSphere Globe, Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, California 

1998 The Digital 3-D Earth, developed in association with Silicon Graphics (SGI), the basis for Google Earth

1998 Earth Situation Room Permanent Environmental Exhibit, Lisaberg Theme Park, Goteburg, Sweden

2000 Earth Situation Room Permanent Environmental Exhibit, MTN Science Center, Cape Town, South Africa 

2001 Dolphin Wall, sculptured concrete, 12’ x 60', Hoag Memorial Hospital,  Newport Beach, California 

2003 Marsh Birds,   bronze sculpture, 7’,  Muth Interpretive Center, Newport Beach, California

2005 Sandpiper Wall,  sculptured concrete 5’ x 60’, Hoag Memorial Hospital,  Newport Beach, California

2013 History Wall, sculptured concrete, 10' x 30', Orange County Peace Officer's Memorial, Tustin, California

2013 Heroic Figures, cast bronze, 9', in association with Daub and Firmin Sculpture Studios, Orange County Peace Officer's Memorial, Tustin, California