Adelaide Tyrol, artist

REVIEW: Lesley University Magazine, Art Institute of Boston


Adelaide Tyrol: A Common Thread

By Lisa Connell

For Natural Science illustrator plus business entrepreneur Adelaide Tyrol, completion of her master of fine art’s degree gave her the change of pace and perspective she sought.

Through Lesley’s low-residency graduate MFA program, Tyrol earned the art world’s terminal degree over several semesters. She graduated in 2007. A low-residency program allows a student to work on projects from home, in Tyrol’s case from her home in central Vermont, without having to relocate or give up personal and professional obligations.

Professionally, Tyrol splits her time between Vermont, where her natural science illustrations are drawn, and New York City. Tyrol and business partner Sarah Oliphant founded a scenic backdrop painting and rental business there in 1978; Several additional colleagues have since joined the studio team.

The tug of responsibility between school and work also played itself out in Tyrol’s decision to choose Lesley’s low-residency program over others, including in Vermont. She knew that she wanted to study in a relatively large city such as Boston. The pace of an urban environment complemented life in pastoral Vermont and, albeit in a smaller way, mirrored the pulse and cultural offerings of Manhattan.

Tyrol says she came into the program as a strong painter but felt she needed to know more about the art world in general and how her work fit into other artists’ visions. In the contemporary art world of the early 21st century, an artist in a graduate school program must explain how he or she sees themselves in that continuum. “They are really trying to teach you to explain what you are doing and why you are doing it,” she says.

Tyrol describe her work as a balance between heavily detailed and rendered images to very, very loose and gestural paintings. Each of those approaches to work- from botanical and small wildlife illustrations to fashion show backgrounds- is evident in work she completed for her master’s. Certainly, each style has brought her satisfaction and a way to earn a living. In her MFA work, the swiftness and certainty of her paintbrush combine with the keen observations of her subjects. One can also see the combination of her love for the natural world of insects, birds and plants combined with the calligraphic paint strokes for which her fashion industry scenic backdrops are renowned. She has merged these diverse art styles into a coherent body of artwork.

After learning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Vermont, majoring in English and minoring in are, for several years she continued her art studies at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Tyrol’s studies and interests led her to a 25-year career as a commercial scenic backdrop painter. She also developed a flip side, however, illustrating detailed botanical and zoological art projects for scientists.

Tyrol describes the commercial art world in New York City as being “very plump.” Bookings from business clients for scenic backdrops come regularly, and there’s always a need “ to solve someone else’s artistic problems,” she says. The pace is extremely demanding. “ The climate in NYC trained me to work very quickly,” says Tyrol. Recently she received this e-mail on a Thursday regarding a runway project for Fashion Week in Manhattan: “Marc Jacobs needs a 27’ x 80’ painted sky for his runway show at the Armory on Tuesday. Can you give us an estimate this afternoon, a sample by tomorrow morning and, if confirmed, can you have it finished by Monday ?”

One of her favorite ways to paint these backgrounds is with a brush attached to the end of a three-foot bamboo pole. “You have to work really, really big and really, really fast,” she says.

Tyrol and her business partner at Oliphant Studios also paint scenic backdrops for other industries or private residences. The studio is located on Manhattan’s lower West Side.

The Master of Fine Arts program allowed Tyrol to take a step back from the hectic pace that work for the fashion industry demands and shift her artistic focus and gears.

Nonetheless, her work for Oliphant and school meshed nicely because of the mere physical act of painting. “I love paint. I love splashing it and pulling it and dragging it,” she says, the pleasure of the physicality associated with painting evident in her voice.

Indeed, the MFA program, established several years ago, requires dedication and focus by the student. A graduate level art program culminates in the artist’s statement about his or her studio work.

During the residency sessions when MFA candidates meet in Massachusetts as a group with professors, the discussions are intense. Lectures and presentations begin early in the morning and continue into the night. There are five 10 day required residencies built into the four-semester program. Candidates complete their individual projects in their home studios over a semester and then meet in residency as a group to review each other’s work. The projects, that will encompass a body of work, are part of a student’s previously approved plan of study. Each graduate student seeks mentors in the art field who five the student professional guidance and technical advice as needed.

For Tyrol, much of the support of the program derives from the sense of community that develops among the artists and instructors. “There is a great sense of dialogue," she says about both groups. She continues to speak with current and prospective students. People whom she’s met through her master’s program remain in contact with her and vice versa, as do school officials associated with the MFA program. “I feel I have an institution that is supporting me,” she says. Graduation is not the end of professional contact and Tyrol finds comfort in this.


Lesley University Magazine, Art Institute of Boston

The Boston Globe

Christian Science Monitor


Seven Days

Central Vermont Medical Center

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