Sheridan Oman Biography

Sheridan Oman

American

1926-1997

Biography

Printmaker, painter, and sculptor Sheridan Winslow Oman was born on October 20, 1926 on a farm in Hightstown, New Jersey to Milton and Norma Oman. He grew up in Monroe N.J., where he married his first wife, Marjorie Thompson, in 1946. He studied art under George Grosz and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League in New York City, and for two years he worked at the Bronx Zoo as a staff artist. In the early 1970s he remarried and moved to Tucson, Arizona with his second wife, Pearl, herself a painter.

For eleven years Oman worked as a keeper in the bird section of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and then, as in New York, as a staff artist, creating a variety of works in different mediums that featured local wildlife. He also illustrated wildlife guides, including Animal Kitabu (1968, Elek Books, Jean-Pierre Hallet); The Easy Field Guide to Common Desert Mammals of Arizona (1976, Tecolote Press, Dick and Sharon Nelson); and Birds at a Glance (1984, Van Nostrand Reinhold, Blachly, Jenks, Oman). Towards the end of their lives Sheridan and Pearl Oman resided at the edge of Tuscon in the desert, becoming known as reclusive artists who had little contact with society but who continued to work on their paintings and prints from home. Oman did the entire printing process for his etchings on his own, from working on the original plate to hand pulling each of the prints on his own press. Most of his subjects are North American mammals and birds.

Unfortunately, the end of the Omans' lives are shrouded in tragedy. In March of 1995 the body of Pearl and that of the Oman's cat were found in their home with gunshot wounds, and Sheridan Oman had disappeared into the forest, never to be seen again, though several notes were left behind to indicate what he wanted done with their property. Some sources have suggested that Pearl may have had an incurable ailment and that Sheridan acted out of mercy and grief - unsubstantiated claims that nevertheless made more sense to those who knew him and described him as gentle and kind. Sheridan Oman is officially listed as having died on January 6, 1997 in Pima County, Arizona, although his body was never recovered.

Various homages to Sheridan Oman on behalf of his life and work have occured in recent years. In 2016 an extensive exhibition of his work, including paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures, was held by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and its Art Institute, complete with a catalogue of his works titled In Search of Sheridan Oman: The Art of a Desert Recluse. Of his work, the director of the museum noted: "...Sheridan Oman's...medium was art, but [his] language was nature. He demonstrated not only a deep understand of the natural world, but also a longing to present this to others so they could come to know it as he had." - Craig Ivanyi, director, ASDM. In 2019, the Mirror Vision Ensemble performed an operatic tribute to the artist, written by composer Francine Trester and inspired by Oman's wildlife etchings, which was performed at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. 

Oman's work is included in the J. Frank Dobie collection at the University of Texas, Austin and the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University, Kansas.