Joe Tonelli – RIP

St. Petersburg Times staff artist and illustrator Joe Tonelli has passed away.

Joseph Felix (Joe) Tonelli

November 19, 1926 – August 12, 2023

Joe was staff artist at The St. Petersburg Times from 1962-1993, at times the chief staff artist.

From the obituary:

Recognizing his exceptional talent, his parents allowed him to ride a city bus to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA, where his family moved when Joe was 10 years old. It was there that Joe excelled, learning to draw people and animals as part of a group of young artists called the Tam O’ Shanters, a prestigious series of Saturday art classes. He had an amazing gift that was a source of happiness and purpose throughout his life.

In 1944, he enlisted in the Navy, serving his country towards the end of WWII. Upon his return to Pittsburgh, he found work as an artist at Gimbels Department Store and then the Pittsburgh Press, where he illustrated news stories and advertisements. He also hand drew fonts and was famous in the industry for his hand-lettered mastheads. At the insistence of a close friend and colleague, he took a position at the St. Petersburg Times in 1962 as a news artist. It was there in 1968 that he met wife, Diane, another artist from the graphic department. They married and settled down in Pass-a-Grille Beach, growing their family from two to four. During this time, he climbed the ranks to Chief News artist and gained a following over the span of 30 years.

Joe was humble about his successes. When he retired, he brought home a box of memorabilia. It contained a small postcard announcing his nomination for a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism in 1974 for an editorial cartoon depicting Nixon as an eagle, with talons clutching the missing Watergate audiotapes. When he was questioned why he never mentioned this over the years, even to his family, he shrugged and said, “Well…I didn’t win”.

After retiring in 1993, he could often be found painting in his home studio while listening to Frank Sinatra.

Joe simply created joy wherever he went and whatever he did.

above: Joe in 1971

all images from and © The St. Petersburg Times