Mr. Tolman is very pleased that his interview with the Almaty news paper.


*It has been translated from Russian into English. Please have a look at it.

Norman Tolman: from Rockefeller to Kazakhstan

The Kasteyev Museum presents an exhibition of contemporary Japanese art «Subtle Equilibrium», comprised of works by nine artists from the collection of Norman Tolman.

Norman Tolman is an extraordinary person. The holder of a  graduate degree from Yale University, he started his working career as a paperboy at age 7. He served in the Air Force, fought in the Korean War, at the same time he is a graduate of both Yale and U.C. Berkeley.

He is a professional diplomat who gave up his career and huge diplomatic mansion in Kyoto to provide for his children’s education, and became an art dealer. Today, Norman Tolman is the leading expert in prints and owner of galleries throughout the world. At 83 he often travels and organizes exhibitions on different continents. And, it seems has a deep sympathy of our country. In the last three years Mr. Tolman has been in Kazakhstan six times, and now opens his third show.

- Norman, how did you made such a drastic career shift, from career    diplomat to  art dealer?

- Many years ago, a bit over forty to be exact, I started to plan for my children's future. I have two daughters; one is now 60, the other one is 55. At that time they still were in school, and I thought that they should attend a good university. And you know how expensive that is. As a state employee I could not afford such expenses. At the time I was working at the US Embassy in Japan, but I liked and knew about Japanese prints, and thought that it would be a great idea to sell them in and out of the country.

- Japanese art was not well known outside of Japan, and I personally new many of the artists.

- How many artists are represented in your gallery?

- Today I work with 40 artists. The most famous is Toko Shinoda. She turned 106 this year. I was lucky to meet her over 40 years ago, and we have been collaborating ever since. Over the years I have sold over 10,000 pieces by Ms.Shinoda. It is hard to determine her best pieces, maybe those which are displayed at the Met in New York. Toko Shinoda's work is displayed in tens of world renown museums, galleries, offices of large corporations, embassies, as well as palaces of His Imperial Majesty and his family. Ms. Shinoda is a favorite artist of the Imperial Family, and is the only living artist who has a commemorative stamp by Japanese mail.

- To whom among the celebrities did you sell pieces from your collection? David Rockefeller was one. He bought over 100 Japanese prints. When Mr. Rockefeller passed away, his heirs decided to sell his vast collection of world-class art. And when I reviewed the list, to my surprise I did not find any of the Japanese prints. I was delighted to learn later, that since Mr. Rockefeller liked this collection so much, his heirs decided to keep them.

There are a lot of rich and famous people among my clients, such as Spiderman – Toby Maguire. Or once we had a visitor, who introduced himself and went off to look at the pieces in the gallery. I was online, speaking to my daughter, and when she asked me what I was doing, I mentioned the visitor's name. She googled him and told me that he was #35 on the Forbes' World's Richest List.

  • I don't just sell all the pieces, some of them I have donated to Universities. My

  • daughter graduated from SmithCollege  (one of the Seven Sisters) which has the largest collection of contemporary Japanese woodblock prints made since the war, which I donated  in the name of Hilary - my younger daughter.

- Norman, besides Tokyo, where do you have galleries?

- Besides Tokyo, The Tolman Collection galleries could be found in New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and London.

- Today the most active clients are from China and the Middle East. Did you consider opening gallery in China? Are there concerns that historical differences will hinder this process?

- I had a gallery in Shanghai, but it did not last long. Chinese generally prefer Chinese.

- How did you end up in Kazakhstan, it is not the most popular art destination?

- I used to fly to Europe through Singapore. But one day I decided to take a different route, this is how I first came to Kazakhstan. Before I visited, I remember asking my daughter if she new anyone in Kazakhstan. At the time we did not know anything about this country. But later she called and said that her husband knew someone. During a visit I was lucky to meet Daniyar Uteulin and Asya (spouse of the famous Kazakhstani artist Eduard Kazarian). I got a very warm reception, and I tried delicious besparmak. Since then I have visited six times and met local artists, such as Marat Bekeyev and Eduard Kazarian. During one of the visits I decided to introduce Japanese prints to Almaty public. The first show was organized by the Kazarian Art Center.

- It is your sixth visit to Kazakhstan. Have you bought any local art?

- Yes, I bought several paintings by Marat Bekeyev and a piece of sculpture by Eduard Kazarian.

- This is your second show in Almaty; do you have plans for the Capital?

- I have some plans, which I hope to fulfill.

P/S. In the end of his interview, Norman Tolman shared a very pleasant surprise – during his next visit in early November he plans to present the Kasteyev Museum with a commemorative collection of contemporary Japanese prints, called “Hope,” it showcases eight Japanese artists.

By the way this show is not only for display. One can purchase pieces he likes. Prints by Toko Shinoda run from 5 500$ to 18 300$. Other artists' pieces start from 550$. Prints are made in several editions and each one has its unique number.

There is a series of lectures going throughout the duration of the exhibition.