The Art of Tom Y. Sprague TY Sprague Art TY Sprague Art Gallery About the Artist The Art of Tom Y. Sprague
Artist's Biography

Since before recollection, Tom Y. Sprague spent a large portion of his days in some semblance of alternate reality.  Yeah, you got it; he’s always been a dreamer.  He recalls as a child looking out the large windows of their little house in Indiana.  He would imagine himself as a prince or movie star, surveying the grounds of his fantasy estate.  His sketchbooks from those days were filled with pictures of buildings and a lot of sketches of the machinery needed to build those buildings.

Even during moments of reality, like sitting on the basement stairs watching his mother do the laundry, Tom would drift off into a fantasy world, describing to his mother the great stone mansion he was designing and would someday build for her.  It would be a lavish place with gardens and servants.  There, she could write, read and relax, and they would be free from work and all the anxiety that families experience in the real world. 

His older sister, Cathie was an influence, she showed the youngster things about perspective and color mixing that helped him create even richer fantasy worlds. Tom discovered when drawing that in some strange inexplicable way capturing an object, person or place, gave to a poor kid from a modest background, a kind of ownership of that image.

When Tom was age seven the Sprague family moved to Ohio where the young boy  made a conscious effort to be more outgoing and sociable. As he explains about that period of his life, “I did not abandon the dream world, but I became more involved with friends and neighbor kids.  I was influenced by a neighborhood friend’s family and introduced to the world of theatre.  I had always been interested in the human figure, having done portraits of my family in my sketchbook”. The stage however, was built around actors conveying feeling and emotion through voice, facial expression and body language.  Tom drew pictures and acted in plays, and by age 14 had his own rock n roll band  (he was the singer in Elf & The Dwarfs).  In elementary school his favorite days were when the traveling art teacher (Roger Noffsinger) came to school. “He made me feel like a star.” Tom says. “He taught us about color and texture and composition and by Junior High even cubism and abstraction.”  In High School Tom Born was the teacher and he let Sprague explore in any media the young man chose, drawing, pottery, printmaking, watercolor, oils.

During High School he remained interested in the Human Figure.  One day while walking to his next class with a friend he spotted, in his words, “a vision,” a beautiful young sophomore with a pretty face and woman’s body.  Tom was stunned and  whispered to his friend, “Who is that?”  The friend replied, “that’s Cindi Foster, she came from the Catholic school”.  Tom blurted out, “I am going to marry her.”  That was 47 years ago and Tom and Cindi have now been married for 41 years, and their three children are grown.  “She is still beautiful and an inspiration to my work”, the artist claims  “The figures in my paintings, full of hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties have all been inspired by her.”

Sprague’s family and teachers encouraged him to go on to BGSU.  He majored in art and later in communication and theatre.  Tom taught art, and communication and theatre in Defiance County for over 35 years.  He received a Masters Degree in Art Education from St. Francis University.  Sprague started and managed his own advertising and design firm, Prism Enterprises.  Tom’s  graphics and designs have been published and displayed across the area and state. He was instrumental in beginning  Graphic Design Programs at Defiance College and Defiance High School.

During his years as a teacher and director Tom produced dozens of shows.  The Theatrical Design and sets for these shows all began with drawings pulled out of his dream world.  Sprague’s work on stage is a memorable part of his life in art. The Artist explains, “I discovered that human reaction to emotion is understood even by the least artistic people.”  Most of his paintings during the teaching years were done as Commissions.  Tom now paints and has a studio in Defiance, Ohio. The actor still performs in the band “Siberian Solstice”. 

Some say Tom works realistically.  That is not totally accurate.  In reality, most of his paintings are plays acted out by non-existent players in constructed scenes.  All that, a growing part of his dream world.  Welcome in and join the fun.

1954 Back Home in Indiana

1955 Sketchbook Entry
1955 - Sketchbook Entry

1964 Elf & the Dwarfs

Studio Phone 419-782-3827

1965 Snow Sculpture
1965 Snow Sculpture

1990 Teaching Art in the Theatre
1990 - Teaching Art in the Theatre

2012 New Years
2012 - The Sprague's New Year

2008 - The Band
2008 - The Band


From my earliest recollection I’ve been doing art.  My parents were always encouraging; Birthday, Christmas and other holiday gifts always included some art supply, sketchbooks, colors, paints, chalk, clay, etc.  My sister, 7 years old when I was born, was like a day care assistant focusing my activities on making cool stuff.

In school, my teachers reinforced my skills.  I remember special projects they gave me to do.  This was, in the first place, to keep me occupied.  In art, I was a precocious child.   In all my schoolwork I bored quickly and tended to disturb other kids.  The teachers may have, as well, been motivated because the project related to the subject being taught:  paintings of Aztec warriors, murals across the back of the room with the landmarks from our town, or portrait sketches of the characters from a story or book we read.  My art teachers Tom Born, and Roger Noffsinger were huge influences. 

Neighbors and people from our town, shopkeepers, barbers, mechanics, when they became aware of my interest would give me little commissions, including caricatures and cartoons for friends and co-workers. 

In high school, clubs and organizations employed me to do art, such as team member portraits, spirit projects and large murals for dances.  My peers often encouraged me, as well.  One snowy winter day, school was cancelled and my friends showed up.  Six or seven of us piled snow in our front yard. Equipped with a shovel, spatula and spoon, I began sculpting.  When I finished, a 20 ft. reclining female nude, posterior to the street, lay across our front lawn.  Traffic backed up on the street as admirers slowed and stopped to gawk.  The local newspaper sent a photographer.

As a student and teacher of art, many masters have influenced me; for their great observational and rendering skills I respect.  Durer, David & Degas.  As for the expression of the human figure and the manipulation of the human form I have a predilection for Michelangelo, El Greco and Carravaggio.  Rembrandt and Chardin have been inspirational in their use of impasto, textures and surfaces.

During my college days, my mind was opened to the degree that Art reflected the society and time from whence it came.  I began to prefer the masculine strength and order of the neoclassical to the frivolous, flowery, feminine style of the Rococo.  This preference came more from moral and political than artistic reasons.  In the 60s, I became aware of American artists, such as Cole and Hopper.  In 1969 I read an article in “LIFE” about American artist, Thomas Hart Benton that influenced me greatly.  Benton stood his ground against the abstract expressionists and other modern movements, choosing instead to express the true grit of America.  His subjects and style did not depict the glitz of the privileged class, but the hard toil, blood, sweat, tears and simple joys of the backbone of America, those who made the country great.  He traveled and studied the differences in America and revealed them as similarities. 

I try to use my travels and studies of different locales to represent the similarities of being human.  I make an effort to express that which is shared by us all.  We all seek a safe place to call home, and a need for companionship or privacy. 

Recently, the Impressionists have touched me.  Their loose style and everyday subjects resonate with me.  The Quick execution of a canvas the Impressionists and Post Impressionists prided themselves in is something that currently eludes me.  I continue to evolve, so keep in touch.


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