Born 1957 in Philadelphia, PA, the family moves to Villanova, Pennsylvania a few years later. Sparked by a physics experiment in school, Tobin develops an interest in glassblowing and proceeds to make decorative objects, such as glass trees, which he sells on the streets of New York (1970). In 1971 he begins seriously to pursue another life-long passion, music, and studies playing the saxophone with classical saxophonist Arthur Hegvik. A year later he discovers working in clay and on the potter's wheel, which lays the foundation for the craftsmanship of his later creative work.
In 1973 Tobin begins studying physics and two years later wins the position of post research assistant with Nobel Prize winner Campbell Laird at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1976 he transfers to Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he finds the ideal environment to pursue physics, music and pottery (ceramics). In 1978, he helps Gene Koss, ceramics professor at Tulane to build a glass studio. Tobin develops his own glass-blowing techniques and some of his work is chosen for traveling museum shows. A year later, he graduates with a bachelor's degree in theoretical mathematics and moves to North Carolina, where he builds a glass studio. He begins showing his work in New York and attends the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State and the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.
In 1980, he moves to Check, Virginia, building his second glass studio there. He has his first solo exhibition in New York. In 1982, he leaves Virginia to become a "vagabond glassblower" but that same year fulfills several teaching assignments at the Penland and Pilchuck schools, as well as at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop and at Colorado Mountain College.
In 1983-84, he works on a seven-months fellowship at Wheaton Village, Millville, New Jersey, where he creates his first outdoor installation Waterglass. Tobin spends 1985 and 1986 as a teacher of glass sculpture in Japan, at the Tokyo Glass Art Institute. His work is exhibited throughout Japan. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1987, he settles in Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania and exhibits his first large-scale blown-glass sculptures titled Cocoons at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia (1988). In 1989 he becomes the first foreigner to build a studio in Murano, Italy and proceeds to travel between studios in the U.S. and Italy.
In 1990, he creates the cast-glass series doors, casting bronze and glass together in the same mold. Tobin has his first retrospective with Marc Chagall at the Retretti Art Centre in Finland in 1993, and installs Water Columnat at the American Craft Museum (now Museum of Arts and Design) in New York. 1993 also marks the year he retires from glass-making with his last work being the world's largest bottle to benefit the artist's fellowship program at the Creative Glass Center of America, in Melville, New Jersey.
Subsequently, Tobin begins to work in metal sculpture and is invited by Philip Berman, the chairman of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to join a workshop of international metal and stone sculptors in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 1994 he builds a bronze foundry and begins to cast bronze sculpture.
He exhibits Earth Bronzes at the Fuller Museum of Art, Brockton, Massachusetts in 1998 with the show also moving to New York. In 1999, he installs a year-long exhibition of Earth Bronzes at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (he takes it apart in 2001, one day before the attack on the World Trade Center). His Roots sculpture represents the centerpiece of the Vancouver International Sculpture Project in Vancouver, British Columbia and following in Kirkland, Washington.
In 2001 he begins the Lantern House series using glass lantern slides from the 1800s. The work is exhibited in 2002 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. That same year his Earth Bronzes are installed on the grounds of the Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits, Hancock Park, Los Angeles with an ancillary exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Earth Bronzes are also exhibited in 2002 at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Steve Tobin continues to live and work in Pennsylvania.