A true musician-artist

aquatint art on paper
Joan Mitchell's <i>Little Weeds 1</i>, 1992. Color etching and aquatint on paper. Each panel: 9 1/4 x 7 inches

Music teacher Tim Woolsey became a portrait painter and has gifted works of other artists to Texas State

By Dan R. Goddard

During his 35 years teaching undergraduate and graduate piano students at Texas State University, Dr. Tim Woolsey, named Professor Emeritus in 2010, developed a new passion — visual art.

Building on his childhood interest in art, he collected works on paper by contemporary artists such as Richard Tuttle, Sol LeWitt, and Terry Winters. In 2004, he began donating works to the School of Art and Design, setting the standard for a growing permanent collection. Today, when not acquiring artworks to give to the university, Woolsey is trying his hand at something different— painting portraits.

“I’ve always loved going to art museums, “Woolsey says. “I liked to look at the old stuff — like pre-20th century. About 20 years ago, I was asked to teach a section of Introduction to Fine Arts, and I jumped at the chance. I’d never taught a big lecture class before, and I spent most of the summer preparing. It was that experience that led me into looking with a more educated eye at art from all style periods, including modern art.”

Art he could afford

painted self portrait of man
Tim Woolsey's <i> Self Portrait</i>. Pastel on paper. 16 x 20 inches

He began collecting contemporary work on paper because he liked it and he could afford it. “Plus, I liked a gallery in Philadelphia (Gallery Joe) that had wonderful stuff,” Woolsey says. “I got to know the director — Rebecca Kerlin — and she was incredibly generous to me. Collecting art is a rich man’s sport, and she well knew that I am not rich. It is very gratifying to know that collecting has a larger purpose than just acquiring more art. It is good to know students have access to this work.”

Woolsey is striving to fill in the university’s collection with works by earlier 20th-century American artists such as John Marin and Marsden Hartley. “I buy almost exclusively at auctions now. If you keep your eyes open and get lucky by not getting into a bidding war with some rich guy, you can find some wonderful stuff, “he says. “Lately, since I’ve gotten interested in portraiture myself, I’ve branched out and gotten some portrait pieces by 18th- 19th-, and 20th-century artists too.”

His donations make up more than half of the Texas State Galleries’ permanent collection. Woolsey’s contributions have shaped the university’s collection, which is strong in modern and contemporary works on paper, mostly by Texas artists.

“The works donated by Dr. Woolsey over these years represent an encyclopedic range of mediums, techniques, styles, and subject matter. The collection is also rich with works that push the boundaries of these categories. One finds abstract landscapes, three-dimensional drawings, ‘as found’ materials,” says Dr. Margo Handwerker, director of Texas State Galleries. “The works are an essential resource for students in the School of Art and Design, modeling the potential to apply the foundational skills that one acquires in school to building one’s own unique practice. Our art history students use the collection too, having curated exhibitions using Dr. Woolsey’s gifts, while our student workers learn basic collections management by assisting our crew in stewarding the collection.”

Painting into retirement

art piece of circles
Kristina Lahde's <i>Passage</i>, 2003. Collaged paper on wood. 20 x 20 inches

Taking up portrait painting had been in the back of Woolsey’s mind since he took a class about 30 years ago called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. “I had never done any drawing, and after about five classes all of us were doing very respectable portraits of one another,” he says.

In retirement, Woolsey started taking lessons from Polly Lanning Sparrow, who once taught at Texas State. “I was clueless, but she was patient,” he says. “For about two years, I did nothing but pencil still lifes. My first attempts at portraits were grotesque, but it’s like anything else: If you get curious, you might fall in love with something. I did. I draw every day and have done hundreds of portraits — pastel, pencil, from life, from photos.”

Woolsey says he hopes to “catch the life behind the eyes” of his subjects, the psychological dimension of a person’s character seen in the work of great portraitists such as Rembrandt and Diego Velázquez. “I have gotten pretty good at capturing a likeness from life. At the moment I’m trying to improve at life drawing, but since we can’t have live models these days, I have to work from photos.” Woolsey has won top prizes in Austin Pastel Society competitions. Anyone can commission Woolsey through his website at timwoolseyart.com.

The professor hasn’t given up his first love of music. “Yes, I still perform,” Woolsey says. “I did a public recital back before the pandemic and two more online. I practice every day for two or three hours before I start teaching here at the house.”

Donating art isn’t his only gift. In honor of his parents, Woolsey established the Adele H. and Theodore D. Woolsey Endowed Scholarship for piano students. The scholarship has been supporting piano majors for almost 10 years. He has also included Texas State in his estate plan to support the scholarship and to establish the Tim Woolsey Study Abroad Award that will help students in the School of Art and Design and/or the School of Music with funding to be applied toward a study abroad trip or a conference outside of Texas.