Alan Tompkins, a prolific artist, educator and a key figure in forming the University of Hartford, has died. He was 100.
A noted muralist who continued to paint into his 100th year, Tompkins was director of the Hartford Art School when it merged with the Hartt School of Music and Hillyer College to form the University of Hartford in 1957.
Tomkins, who lived in Bloomfield during his later years, died Thanksgiving Day, and his death was announced Thursday.
This summer, a collection of Tompkins work was exhibited at the university's Silpe Gallery to mark his 100th birthday, the 50th anniversary of the university's founding and the 130th anniversary of the art school's founding.
An art professor for many years, Tompkins defined himself foremost as a painter.
"Alan had a singular ability to articulate his discipline, and that's that of a painter," said Linda Powers Tomasso, who studied art with Tompkins in the 1990s and wrote the book "Alan Tompkins — Painter."
"He above all wanted to be recognized as a painter," she said.
Born in New Rochelle, N.Y., Tompkins graduated from Columbia University in 1929 with a degree in art history and in 1933 from the Yale Art School, where he studied mural painting.
During the Depression, he was commissioned by the federal government to paint four murals for post offices in Indiana and North Carolina. "Daniel Boone on a Hunting Trip in Watuaga County," remains at the Boone, N.C., post office.
His works never fit one style, Tomasso said. His early paintings were representational, but by the end of his career he focused less on representing the likenesses of individuals and more on the expression of character.
"He understood, as a painter, the power of graphic ideas," Tomasso said.
After 12 years as head of the Hartford Art School, Tomkins continued to teach there until 1974.
In 1990, he moved to the Duncaster Retirement Community in Bloomfield, where set up a small studio and either painted or drew almost daily until shortly before his death.Of the 45 paintings displayed at the university this summer, many were painted in the past 20 years.
"It was a wonderful show, and Alan seemed to be a force that would not end," said Power Boothe, dean of the art school. "He was always planning his next painting and working on his next exhibition."
A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Jan. 19 at Duncaster, which will be followed by a reception and exhibition of Tompkins' work, including one piece that he worked on just before his death.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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