Tony Sheets Biography
John Anthony “Tony” Sheets (1942- ) Tony was born into the Claremont artist’s community of Southern California in 1942. His father, Millard Sheets, was a renowned artist and teacher, and the head of the art department at Scripps College at the time. Millard was also an architectural designer and designed their home which he built the year Tony was born. It was in a small artist’s colony in the foothills just north of Claremont. Tony grew up with horses which his Father trained and he and his two brothers rode the hills surrounding their home as kids.
Tony was introduced to the world of art at a very young age. Besides the wonderful artistic talent of both his parents, his neighborhood was filled with professional artists working in every medium imaginable. By the time Tony was 10 years old he had a standing invitation from most of those artists to visit their studios to talk and learn. In return, he learned the necessity of cleaning up after the work was done, a skill which Tony endeavors to teach others today.
Tony enjoyed his early and high school education and tolerated the learning aspects. He attended two years at Cal Poly, Pomona, studying landscape architecture until his enjoyment became more important that his studies and he was asked to move on. That was a major turning point in his artistic life, and his father gave him some very timely advice, ” If you really want to be an artist, learn from artists who have made careers in the art world.” Tony did just that, for 13 years.
In the early 1960s he began working as an apprentice for sculptor Albert Stewart who was the head of the sculpture department at Scripps College. Tony would work in Stewart’s studio in the mornings and take classes at Scripps in the afternoon. Millard, being the Art Department Head, and Scripps, being an all women’s college, overlooked Tony’s presence there. On weekends Tony worked in the studios of other artists to learn other mediums. Jean and Arthur Ames taught him enameling on copper. He watched and listened as Harrison McIntosh, Rupert Dees and William Manker created ceramic artworks which have become the dream of today’s art collectors. He was amazed to see petite Betty Davenport Ford create massive ceramic sculptures, often larger than her, in techniques that she created. While at Scripps during the week, he studied with Paul Soldner, ceramics, Phil Dike, painting, Paul Darrow, print making, and others.
He even found time to marry his High School sweetheart Carolyn Curtis, which was not long lasting but produced to fine offspring, Heidi & Tim. With marriage came the necessity of having a paying job. Tony went to work for one of his Father’s longtime friends, Walt Disney at WED (Walter Elias Disney) helping to create exhibits at Disneyland. He was there long enough to discover once again that this wasn’t what he really wanted to do.
At that time a close friend of the Sheets family and a terrific artist, Tom Van Sant came to Tony’s rescue. Tom had received a commission for a large mural in a new downtown Los Angeles Crocker Bank building, and needed an assistant. So Tony became his apprentice and Tom became Tony’s mentor, a relationship which lasted 7 ½ years, and is still very active today. In those 7 plus years there were many changes in Tony’s life. The beginning of a 9 year stint in the California National Guard; the end of a marriage to Carolyn; a short yearlong working relationship with Sasse and Associates while Tom was away in Vietnam as an Art Correspondent with the Marines. Tony helped Ron Sasse create the first show rooms for the brand new El Toro subdivision in Irvine California.
Tom Van Sant, with Tony as his assistant, created artworks in California, Hawaii and Taiwan. They developed new processes for the creation of cast concrete wall sculptures as well as applied sand and cement wall reliefs. In the late 1960s Tony entered Officer’s Training School (OCS) with the National Guard. There he met a cadet who became a friend and through him met Flower, who became Tony’s wife in 1972.
Tony is the Director of the 12,000 sq. ft. Fine Arts Building at the Los Angeles County Fair, now named after Tony’s Father as the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at Fairplex. Millard was the Director of Art there for 25 years, 1931 to 1956. Tony and his team create an exhibit which is seen by its 375,000 visitors through the gallery in 25 days of September annually. 2013 will be Tony’s seventh year as Designer and Director.
Interview with Tony Sheets-2011