* 1890 Centerville/Wisconsin
† 1976 Basel
At the age of sixteen, Tobey went to Chicago in 1906 and began to study at the local Art Institute. In 1908 he started with his professional career as an employee in a studio for fashion design and finally became an independent fashion designer in New York in 1911. During the following years Tobey went further into works of the Arabian literature and the teachings of East Asian philosophy with the consequence that he joined the Baha-'i-doctrine in 1918. From 1922 until 1925 he worked as an arts teacher in Seattle and from 1930 until 1937 as a teacher at the Dartington Hall School in Devonshire, England.
Voyages were very important in Tobey's life. In 1925 he visited Europe for the first time, and only a little later Persia. In the 1930s he made a longer journey to Shanghai and Japan, where he was busy for some time with the doctrine and paintings of Zen as well as the forms of the Hai-Ku poetry and calligraphy in a Zen monastery in Kyoto. In 1938 he created musical compositions of his own. He left England in the same year and went back to Seattle, where he lived until 1960 - the year when finally settled in Basel.
Influenced by far-eastern art, Tobey developed his famous "White Writings", which represent a network of calligraphically composed filigree symbols. In the beginning they were slightly representational, but became more and more abstract and are therefore in harmony with the artist's meditative and contemplative principle of life. The first individual exhibition of his works took place in the Willard Gallery, New York, in 1944. In 1951 there is another individual exhibition in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York - an exhibition that had already been shown earlier in San Francisco, Seattle and Santa Barbara. This travelling exhibition was the international breakthrough for Tobey. Since that moment he was represented at the important international exhibitions as e.g. the documenta in Kassel in 1959 and 1964. In 1974 the Smithsonian Institute organized a big retrospective. Further posthumous individual exhibitions were shown in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1984 , in the Museum Folkwang, Essen, in 1989, and in the Galerie Beyeler, Basel, in 1990.