Thomas Stockett

[Age 82] The longtime illustrator and political cartoonist for the Afro-American newspaper was also a noted portraitist.

February 24, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Thomas Stockett, whose career as an illustrator and political cartoonist at the Afro-American newspaper spanned more than half a century, died Wednesday of a heart attack at Maryland General Hospital. He was 82.

Mr. Stockett, who lived in the Sutton Place Apartments, was en route to work at the Afro-American's editorial offices, where he had worked for 53 years, when stricken.

"When he told a story with his artwork, he told it completely, and for the last 50 years, he captured all the important moments," said Afro publisher John "Jake" Oliver.

"You could look at one of Tommy's cartoons, and you knew what he was saying. You didn't have to read a 400-word editorial to know what it was about. He made it seem easy," said Mr. Oliver, who described Mr. Stockett as a man with an "international reputation" who was "quiet and painfully bashful."

Through the years, Mr. Stockett's work garnered him many awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

"He owned the NNPA," Mr. Oliver said.

"He cared greatly about his work and made sure that his art spoke to whatever the editorial page was proclaiming that week. He was an exacting, calm and a peacefully sweet man," said the Rev. Dorothy S. Boulware, editor of the Afro-American. "He told stories and wasn't afraid to go up against the establishment."

Mr. Stockett worked from a cramped office filled with file cabinets containing originals of his work and piles of old newspapers. Colleagues estimated that during his career, he drew more than 7,000 cartoons.

"He worked in pen and ink -- no computer -- on an old drafting table," Ms. Boulware said.

Mr. Stockett was to be honored next week in Annapolis, where he was to receive Black History Month honors from the state Senate, said Baltimore Sen. Catherine E. Pugh.

"Tuesday's ceremony will still go on," Senator Pugh said yesterday.

"For the last 50 years, he has recorded what has happened to our community and the important moments in the city and state for African-Americans," she said. "His drawings still resonate, and his legacy will live on because of his art."

Senator Pugh added: "His cartoons were not just cartoons. They were messages that asked us to examine our thoughts. They were about social and political issues and asked us to find out what was best for our community."

Mr. Stockett was born and raised in Baltimore. He was diagnosed with polio when he was 2 years old, and doctors gave him only two years to live. His recovery left him partially paralyzed on his right side. Later in life, he lost sight in one eye.

"His right leg and hand never fully developed, and he drew and painted with only his left hand," said C. Allen Board, a Brooklyn artist and longtime friend. "When he was a young boy, his mother would leave a pencil and a piece of paper for him, which was a hint to draw pictures."

Mr. Stockett's interest began when he was 4, and he was painting by the time he was a teenager. He studied at Carver Vocational-Technical High School and later went to work for a Baltimore sign company designing and painting billboards for local movie theaters.

It was his boss at the sign company that helped Mr. Stockett land a job at the Afro in 1954.

An Afro-American news release announcing his death said Mr. Stockett "consistently poked fun at segregation and showed its inconsistency with American ideals of freedom and democracy." The statement added that he used "his drawings to illustrate an editorial point and help readers envision a particular topic from a black perspective."

"When he did editorial drawings, he did them with ease and made the subject matter come alive. He was thorough, took his time, and was one of the most wonderful cartoonists alive," said Frances L. Murphy, former publisher of the Washington Afro and author of the "If You Ask Me" column.

Mr. Stockett was also a talented portraitist who worked in other media, including oils, watercolors and acrylics. He painted all of the portraits that hang in the Afro's board room.

Mr. Stockett was well known in the art world and participated in many shows, where his work earned many awards.

"He loved talking to people and showing his art," said Gary Kachadourian, visual arts coordinator for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. "It could be the hottest day, and he'd be out there talking to people."

His wife of 40 years, the former Helen Weeden, died in 1988.

Services for Mr. Stockett will be held at noon Monday at the March Funeral Home, 1101 E. North Ave.

Surviving are two sons, Thomas A. Stockett Jr. and David A. Stockett, both of Baltimore; five daughters, Thomasina A. Johnson of Ellicott City, Kathleen E. Jacob and Annette R. Stockett, both of Baltimore, Joanne Waters of Glen Burnie and Linda Savar of Owings Mills; a sister, Pearl L. Mitchell of Baltimore; 13 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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