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Tobey underpainting the mural in the White Plains High School gymnasium, where preliminary work was done before installation and finishing at the Court House. Students visited from all over the county to see the work in progress and to hear him talk about mural painting and art in general.

The Roots of Westchester

       "When the Tricentennial is over, there will be no real visual representation of the 300 years, and the Tricentennial will disappear quietly from man's ken, and that shouldn't be so."

---Alton Tobey, 1983

         Having been a Westchester County, NY resident for over 40 years, and being convinced that a lasting memory of his county's history should be preserved beyond the 1983 Tricentennial, Alton Tobey began the work that led to the creation of this historic 20 by 12 foot mural.

          Undaunted by the fact that there was no initial funding for the project, he remarked grimly: "I would rather wear out than rust out," meaning that he would rather paint without pay than sit still, and he thought that the mural should be done, so he was just doing it!

The 20 x 11  foot Roots of Westchester mural. Click on the image above for a larger view and then use your browser's 'back' button to return to this page.

            All in all, this ultimate celebration of his home county's three-hundred year history -- completed in just over three months -- contains just about every event and person of significance since the county's founding. Gannett newspapers' Suburbia Today, January 30, 1984 magazine section on the mural contained a cover story and some six pages on the creation of the mural, with details about all of its individual subjects and elements.

            Thanks to the efforts of The Gannett Organization and others, public awareness and interest in the project grew, and funds were raised from a number of sources for the materials and other expenses involved in the creation of the mural. A series of limited edition prints of the mural was published, and copies were circulated to all the schools in Westchester and surrounding counties. Some of the prints were hand-signed by the artist.

Tobey working on a mural detail showing a commuter rail car. A lottery was held for all county residents, and the winner's portrait was given a seat on the train.


    In the course of the creation of Roots of Westchester, Tobey incorporated more than 100 individual portraits of people, from George Washington to then present-day county residents into his composition; all done from research he personally undertook or from personal sittings by his contemporaries.

   As an educational venture for students, the painting of the mural itself was begun in a local school gymnasium, before being transportated to the Westchester County Court House where it now permanently resides. A legend listing all the people, places and events shown in the mural was published, and for the past 23 years, the Roots of Westchester mural has been a subject of admiration and an educational resource for K-12 school visits to the Court House, where young citizens of Westchester County can learn about their community's history and legacies.


The mural in progress in the White Plains High School. The color sketch, or 'cartoon' for the mural can be seen framed in the foreground, and the working drawing (with white border) is at the rear of the room.

From a 1983 New York Times Tobey interview:

     "I stopped in the 1920's because I believed everyone was comfortably dead. I figured perhaps in the next century there will be someone who will take care of where I left off"

and from Suburbia Today (Gannett):

      "I told the county executive that I could only guarantee this for 500 years. After that they'll have to dig me up to fix it."

---Alton Tobey


The Alton Tobey Collection

Judith Tobey, David Tobey; Directors

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