“I find painting and teaching are complementary, although they are opposite in what they require of me. Each has sparked the other.” -Toni LaSelle
Most people familiar with the history of TWU may recognize the name of Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle as the Director of the Little Chapel in the Woods Art Project. However, Professor LaSelle’s contributions to TWU are even more far-reaching than that one project. Not only was Professor LaSelle a pioneer in the TWU art department, but she was also a successful modern artist in her own right.
Toni LaSelle was born in 1901 to LeRoy and Mattie LaSelle. She refused to tell anyone the exact day of her birth. However, we do know that she was born in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska as one of seven children. Beatrice was a town steeped in the fine arts, which surely influenced young Toni. She always had a penchant for drawing and by age eleven, she was taking watercolor lessons with her artist aunt.
Toni attended high school in her home town but left for Nebraska Wesleyan University to obtain her bachelors in English with a minor in Science. Although she reportedly loved her classes and her major, in her senior year of college, Toni was introduced to modernism through the work of the Post-Impressionists and the Cubists. After completing her bachelor’s, Toni went on to the University of Chicago, where she oscillated between continuing with English or pursuing art. Being in Chicago, Toni was surrounded by the arts. She would save up her dessert money to go to the local museums and look at the art work that inspired her. Toni completed her masters in Art in 1926.
After her masters, Toni lived in Europe from July 1927 to January 1928, experiencing first-hand the art of Europe. Not long after returning to America, Toni was contacted by the University Placement Bureau to interview for a girl’s college in Texas. Soon, she began teaching at TWU, then the College of Industrial Arts. When a staff-member died in 1930 or 1931, Toni was asked to expand their Appreciation of Art course into the History of Art. In 1935, Toni requested that more than one course in the History of Art be taught. She also arranged for the Bauhaus artist and teacher László Moholy-Nagy to come for a lecture in 1931 and a workshop in 1942.
As an art historian and expert on various European modernist artists, Toni would give lectures at museums. She also had a large hand in organizing the 1947 exhibition on Hans Hoffmann at the Dallas Museum of Art.
Until her retirement in 1972, Toni taught classes in design, drawing, painting, and art history. She was an instrumental figure in shaping the art department and establishing the Art History program at TWU. Every summer until 1993, Toni traveled to the artist community of Provincetown, Massachusetts. She died in Denton in 2002 at the age of 100.
Dorothy Antoinette LaSelle: An Oral History. Conducted in 1994 and 1995 by Dawn Letson.