A family that makes art together

March 30, 2011|By TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Toby Mendezs bronze, four-figure memorial honors former Boston Red Sox players Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio. A model of the statues will be on display with other works by Mendez at Washington County Arts Council gallery. Along with Mendezs statues will be photographs, left, by his step-mother, Jonna Mendez, and paintings, lower left, by his father, Tony Mendez.
Submitted photo

A new exhibit at the Washington County Arts Council promises to be mini-monumental.

Scaled-down versions of public monuments created by sculptor Antonio Tobias Mendez will be part an upcoming WCAC “Triptych: The Mendez Artists,” which opens Saturday, April 2. The exhibit will showcase work by the Mendez family — sculptor Toby Mendez, his father, painter Antonio Joseph “Tony” Mendez, and his stepmother, photographer Jonna Mendez.

The family creates work from a Washington County studio south of Gapland.

In a phone interview ahead of the opening, Toby Mendez said he plans to show eight to 10 sculptures. He plans to include maquettes of commissioned full-sized statues honoring sports figures. Mendez’s bronze sculpture of former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula is perched at the Dolphins’ corporate headquarters at Sun Life Stadium. A memorial honoring former Boston Red Sox players Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio is at Boston’s Fenway Park.

“Some of the sports stuff has been really fun to do, certainly having something at Fenway — I’ve always liked the Red Sox,” said Mendez, reflecting on some of his favorite work.

Mendez, 47, of Frederick, Md., gained broad recognition when he was commissioned by the governor to create the Thurgood Marshall Memorial at the State House. He was also among the artists considered for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, said Trudy D. Byrd, a spokeswoman for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. Mendez said the late civil rights leader has the most challenging likeness to convey.

“Gestures, movement and the spontaneity of it, you think of Martin Luther King, we’re familiar with him on film mostly,” Mendez said. “I think he’s easier to capture in paintings and drawings — I’m not sure why.”

Toby Mendez comes from a family of spies. Jonna and Tony Mendez both worked for the CIA. Their lives are chronicled in a couple of books and, soon, in a film called “Argo” to be directed by Ben Affleck and produced by George Clooney’s Smoke House Productions Company, the couple said in a recent phone interview from their South County studio.

“Tony was escorting Ben Affleck around town two weeks ago,” said Jonna Mendez.

Tony Mendez said it was inevitable for his son to either become a spy or an artist. Dad maintained a painting studio regardless of where spy life took the family. He remembered his son being interested in art from a young age.

“As a little kid, 2 years old, he would come in my studio and start working with his hands,” Tony Mendez said. “I kept encouraging him. It was natural for him to do so.”

Before heading to the Art Institute of Chicago, Toby — who attended Boonsboro High School — interned with the late John Chambers, the Academy Award-winning makeup artist for the film “Planet of the Apes.” Mendez said the experience affirmed his desire to pursue a career in fine art.

“I feel like I’m the conduit,” Mendez said, “to execute something that somebody — in some cases the client — wishes to express but can’t do it. So they come to me.”

Today, it’s through the hands of a spy’s son that fresh clay and a cast of bronze are transformed into something more than a familiar likeness.

At least that’s his hope.

“It’s not just a figure on a pedestal who we don’t know that much about,” Mendez said. “I would say the majority of monuments end up that way. They become the wallpaper of our surroundings.”

If you go ...
WHAT: “Triptych: The Mendez Artists,” exhibit featuring spouses Jonna Mendez and Tony Mendez and their son, Toby Mendez
WHEN: Exhibit opens Saturday, April 2, and will be on view through Thursday, April 28. Opening reception will be from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturday, April 9.
WHERE: Washington County Arts Council gallery, 14 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown.
COST: Free admission.
CONTACT: Call 301-791-3132 or go to

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