PARTNERSHIP FOR LIFE

Albuquerque Journal - October 1, 2006

Outside the Gene and Rebecca Tobey home on the pinon and juniper dotted fringes of Santa Fe, a gust of wind delivers the slight sweet scent of. the nearby trees, and approaching rain.

A 6-foot-tall bronze grizzly bear, named "Pathfinder" rears on its hind legs.

But the bear is not intimidating. Appearing almost human, the sculpture has outstretched arms in a gesture of brotherhood and protection.

The bear was one of the Tobeys' last projects together before Gene succumbed at 60 early this year to leukemia.

Married for 21 years, the couple carried on a professional collaboration known for its brightly colored bronze sculptures of animals with elements of abstract and realism.

The animal's dominant personality is reflected in simple lines and curves. Then, as you near the sculpture, you discover other images that have been ' etched onto the surface; wild animals, starry skies, clouds, humans, symbols, or geometric designs. "Pathfinder" has many such incised line drawings; they give a sense of timelessness, like petroglyphs on the side of a mountain.

"The drawings tell a Tobey story," Rebecca Tobey says, pointing to some on the great bear's body that depict ghosts. You know how in the West at night, she asks, you might hear a breeze or the wind, and it sounds like voices?

"Gene always believed that what you're hearing are the people and living things that came before," she says to the sound of the wind rustling through the branches of an aspen nearby. Thunder rolls from slowly approaching thunderclouds.

"It's amazing, isn't it?" she says.

It's not something to fear, just as the imposing grizzly should not be feared, but instead respected and acknowledged for its manlike traits, she says.

"Gene said whenever he saw a bear in the wild, he saw a man," she says. "He always had that sense that bears and people are very close."

Rebecca says she still senses Gene in her life. He's still in the house, in their artwork, in pictures on the walls, in her soul.

She admits candidly she's not ready to give up the collaboration. She may never give it up, though she acknowledges that no one can say what will happen tomorrow.

"We were two pieces of the same puzzle," she says.

"As artists, if the phone rang and one went to get it, we'd just hand the brush to the other," Rebecca' says. She noted that they created works in ceramic, bronze and watercolor .

"There was never competition over a piece,'! she says. "It was always a true collaboration of two people creating one piece of art."

After Rebecca's world changed, she's had to face doubts, from within; and from galleries, about what happens now. She's resolved to carryon by finishing the pieces they had started, and by continuing to create new artwork. '

Born the son of a coal miner in May 1945, Gene grew up in the red clay canyons of southeastern Utah, where he acquired an appreciation for color, and a love of animals and the outdoors.

Rebecca, 58, grew up the daughter of an Oak Ridge scientist in east Tennessee, where she also gained a deep affinity for animals and nature.

They met in Santa Fe in 1984 when Gene showed some of his work in the gallery where she worked, and a year later, they were married. They blended a . family of five children, now all grown, including two who have become artists themselves.

They opened up a small gallery in Santa Fe, but their timing was bad, coming during the middle of a major oil bust. Texas and Oklahoma moguls stopped buying art, and the business closed.

The family moved to Mason, Texas, in 1995. Gene continued to cast his trademark bronzes, and Rebecca continued as a glaze technician, imbuing Gene's pieces with distinctive contemporary patinas.

The move toward true collaboration crystallized when Rebecca experimented with a new process, coating sculptures with clay slip, instead of glaze, creating a much sharper, crisper finish.

It was one thing when Gene asked her to become his wife, Rebecca says, but making her an equal artistic and creative partner somehow had an even more remarkable effect on their union.

Later, responding to Gene's wanderlust and thirst for adventure, the family moved from the Texas hill country to the Texas Gulf Coast, where they fished for marlin and other big game fish. As the children grew and left for college, Gene and Rebecca sought adventure in places like Alaska, Africa and New Zealand. She has no regrets, saying that they lived life to the fullest.

"Places that most people just dream of going to, we went to," she says.

"I guess the one big thing I learned is that you don't know if tomorrow will come, so live today as big as you can because you can never get it back."