His name is Antonio Tobias “Toby” Mendez. He works in a studio at his father and step-mother’s home along a dusty, bumpy road in Western Maryland.
I got to know him for my story Sunday on what I came to call the family’s mini-art empire. Toby’s father, Tony Mendez, is a remarkable painter and the ex-spy made famous by “Argo,” the film in which he is played by Ben Affleck. Toby’s stepmom is Jonna Mendez, a former spy and gifted streetscape photographer.
Toby learned to sculpt as a boy visiting his father’s studio. His father’s artist’s soul seems to have seeped into him. Toby makes his living as a sculptor, and his hands have produced some of Maryland’s most well-known sculptures.
He did the Thurgood Marshall monument at the Maryland State House. He did several Orioles players at Camden Yards. He did Veterans’ Plaza in Silver Spring. He did Walter Sondheim at UMBC. He did Ernest Everett Just, a famous African American biologist, at a Prince George’s County middle school.
“Toby is a sculptor who really cares about what his subject is going to convey,” said Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland’s state archivist, who worked closely with Toby on the Thurgood Marshall project. “He’s fastidious and thoughtful and he doesn’t make any sacrifices.”
Papenfuse told me he was incredibly impressed with the amount of research Toby does for his projects. When Toby showed me around his studio, he pointed out his bulging bookcase, and I too was struck by the amount of reading he does before getting to work with his hands.
“It’s a lot of background research and layers and figuring out how the pieces fit together,” Toby told me.
And you can see it in his brilliant, moving work. Check it out here.