By Katie Scarvey, Salisbury Post
"Genius is there in all of us, just waiting for us to tap into it," says Salisbury artist Robert Toth.
Genius in all its myriad forms is an endlessly fascinating subject for Toth. Genius has inspired some of his favorite work, including a portrait series that features busts of Beethoven, Edison, DaVinci and Einstein. Those who buy these sculptures, he says, are inspired and motivated by the greatness they represent.
Toth, also an accomplished painter, prefers to sculpt figures who are larger than life -- people like Andrew Jackson, Enrico Caruso, Chief Justice John Marshall, Vincent Van Gogh, Dr. Maria Montessori, Sigmund Freud, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Wright Brothers.
He's currently working on a sculpture of Thomas Jefferson.
"I'm inspired by greatness," he says. "I believe that there's energy given off by these people.
"I like to surround myself with the best of human achievement: artists, inventors, sculptors -- all the positive thinkers out there. I'm motivated by what these images can do to stimulate others.
"My market over the years has been educators and educated people who want to be inspired by people who are meaningful to them," he says.
Toth feels a particular affinity with inventor Thomas Edison, whose New Jersey home isn't far from where Toth grew up.
"When I was a kid, we took a field trip to Edison's laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey," he says. "I must have been inspired by that."
Around 1975, Toth met Theodore Edison, the last surviving Edison son, who helped Toth develop his portrait bust of Thomas Edison.
Just last week, Toth received a letter from Ann Wilke, Edison's grandniece.
"We are absolutely thrilled to have both your sculpture and wall plaque of my 'Great Uncle Tom' standing on and hanging above our 1929 Edison Light-O-Matic, Model C-4 Radio with Electric Phonograph," Wilke wrote.
"Your bust always stood on Uncle Ted's desk...Uncle Ted obviously treasured it, or he would not have kept it on his desk, as it is an excellent likeness. Uncle Ted was always very particular about having 'things Edison' about his father absolutely correct."
Toth sold a sculpture of Thomas Edison to the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery.
His most recent sculpture, a bust of Harry Truman, was unveiled May 27 at the Fine Frame Gallery. The original didn't stick around long -- as a commissioned piece, it had to be shipped out that week to the Masonic Home of Columbia, Missouri to commemorate their grand opening.
Ludwig Van Beethoven, sculpted almost 30 years ago, remains one of Toth's favorite pieces. Women in particular, he says, are drawn to the strength and power of the great composer's face.
Popular fiction writer Anne Rice has Toth's bust of Beethoven in her office.
"It's only inches from my computer," Rice wrote to the dealer who sold her one of the busts, "and I make sure that Beethoven stares right into my face, telling me at every minute to do my best and offer my very highest efforts to God. I want to be a heroic artist in the model of Beethoven."
Writers seem to gravitate to his pieces, Toth says.
"I think keeping the images of inspiration around you is energizing," he says.
Toth recently shipped to the Pentagon a sculpture of Teddy Roosevelt for the Secretary of the Navy. The piece was to be given as a special retirement gift for someone in that office, Toth says.
He was commissioned by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to sculpt busts of composers for a "Men of Music" series including Caruso, Verdi and Wagner. His portrait bust of Benjamin Franklin was commissioned by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.
His portrait bust of Andrew Jackson was commissioned by the local Jackson Society a few years ago.
"They use the bust in their club when they meet at the Depot," he says, adding that the unveiling of that piece was one of his proudest moments. Toth notes that the lodge gives out smaller versions of the sculpture to its membership as achievement awards
Toth often uses the faces of local people as references for his work.
"Foster Owen came in one day, and I said, 'You don't know it but you have been a reference for my Frank Lloyd Wright,'" Toth says.
"Bruce Wilson has a feeling to me like Ben Franklin, and I've used John Shuler from Salisbury Square as a model for Robert E. Lee."
You never know where a Toth sculpture will appear. Sometimes, they even end up in movies.
Recently, busts of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson done by Toth were shipped off to be used as props in "Scary Movie 3," a comedy set to open this October, with Leslie Nielsen as the president of the United States.
This isn't the first time that Hollywood has turned to Toth for props. He crafted a witch sculpture for "The Amityville Horror" years ago.
Toth credits his mother was nurturing his creativity. "I was brought up with paints and clay, and I just got a feel for all that stuff," he says. He studied at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art, where he majored in fine arts. He later studied at the Cape School in Provincetown with impressionist Henry Hensche.
Toth loves to share his passion for creativity with other people. He teaches sculpture and encourages those interested in studying with him to call the Waterworks Visual Arts Center. He has a show coming up at Waterworks, slated to open Aug. 22.
Toth subscribes to the Bill Gates philosophy that work is play.
"You'll do your best at what you like most," he says. "It's that simple."
You can see Toth's work at the Fine Frame Gallery through July 4 or visit his Web site at www.roberttoth.com.
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