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 Hoyt Leon Sherman  (1903 - 1981)

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Lived/Active: Alabama/Ohio      Known for: landscape painting, graphics, design

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Hoyt L. Sherman (1903-1981)

Hoyt Leon Sherman was an American artist, designer and teacher.  As unusual as is his name, he is sometimes mistaken for another, prominent person with the same first and last names (although not related), who was not an artist but a prominent Iowa banker and politician, and the brother of U.S. General William T. Sherman.  This other, earlier Hoyt Sherman lived in an elaborate Victorian mansion in Des Moines, Iowa (in the Sherman Hill district), which later, as the Hoyt Sherman Place, became the headquarters of the Des Moines Women’s Club and is still a major venue for public events.

Hoyt L. Sherman (the artist, not the politician) was born in Lafayette, Alabama, on November 7, 1903.  He came from a modest background but, since childhood, his interests had been split between art and science.  As a high school student, he took courses in engineering drawing, and when he entered Ohio State University as an undergraduate in 1921, his major was in engineering.

Once in college however, he switched his major twice, first to architecture, then to art, and eventually earned a BA degree in art in 1927.  The year after he graduated, he was hired to teach basic drawing at the same school, where he remained on the faculty until his retirement in 1974.

Sherman’s life was dramatically redirected in 1941, when, in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he came up with a highly unusual way (which he himself traced back to Rembrandt van Rijn) of using drawing to improve the accuracy of his students’ vision—whether art or non-art majors, military or civilian—in the hope that they could better detect the presence and identity of enemy aircraft.

This approach to teaching drawing (for which he also gave credit to Paul Cézanne and the Gestalt psychologists) consisted of asking his students to draw from projected slides in a pitch-black room called a "flash laboratory."  Each slide was flashed on screen for only one-tenth of a second, in response to which the students drew from memory in total darkness.

While collaborating with several non-art colleagues with training in the sciences, he claimed that his students' observation skills had improved substantially by drawing in the flash lab.  He recommended that the same method be used in training athletes, with the result that members of the OSU football team were required to work with him daily, with the goal of improving their passing.  The results of this teaching method were formally presented in a book titled Drawing by Seeing (1947).

Sherman’s interest in vision continued and, in 1949, he and his colleagues established the Visual Demonstration Center at OSU, for which they reconstructed the Ames Demonstrations in Perception, a set of laboratory set-ups devised by American artist and psychologist Adelbert Ames, Jr. at the Dartmouth Eye Institute.

Among the many students Sherman influenced was the American Pop Art painter Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), who in 1995 donated the funds to establish at OSU a new teaching facility called the Sherman Studio Art Center.

Sherman died in Columbus on December 1, 1981.

Hoyt L. Sherman, Drawing by Seeing: A New Development in the Teaching of the Visual Arts through the Training of Perception (New York: 1947).

D.W. Ecker and S. Madeja, Pioneers in Perception: A Study in Aesthetic Perception (St. Louis, Missouri, 1979).

Roy R. Behrens, “Drawing in the Dark: Rembrandt, Pearl Harbor, and the Flash Lab” in Print, September/October (New York, 1992).  Also on the internet at

Information submitted by Roy R. Behrens

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