OTE’s founder was an unusual man; born in Baltimore in 1895 to an American mother, James St. Lawrence O’Toole brought to the art world the charm of his father, the Irish air attaché to the U.S., and former World War I flying ace. He studied at Trinity in Dublin, after which he spent several years in Europe where he worked for Jacques Seligmann et Fils. Between this and his travels back and forth between the States and Paris that he gained his extensive knowledge in fine and decorative arts. During this time he worked at the Hotel de Sagan in Paris and at the New York branch at 5 East 57th Street.
Shortly before the Second World War hit he met and later married the opera singer, Diodata Dandi, who had come to the States to teach belle canto voice to Americans at the Peabody Institute. Not long after James St. L. O’Toole joined the army and became a member of O.S.S. (the forerunner to the CIA) parachuting into France at one point and evading capture as a spy. A historical novel about the time, Surrounded by Howard Burman, claims that at some point O’Toole even posed as an "art consultant" to Herman Göring in Switzerland until he was discovered after trying to pass off a fake Vermeer painting. While we can’t confirm or deny this but it certainly adds to the legend that is James St. Lawrence O’Toole.
After the war ended he returned to a more sedate life in New York. He and his wife had purchased a town house and began an association with the Paul Reinhardt Gallery. In 1932 he established his own eponymous gallery that later morphed into O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc. His clients included celebrities in both the worlds of society and politics. Lawrence O’Toole also testified in a number of high profile art trials during the 1930 and 40s.
By the 1980s when Elin Lake-Ewald became a partner and the organization had offices in Manhattan and Venice, where James O’Toole lived half the year. His friends and associates came from nearly every country on the globe and when he died in 1988 the rooms of the American-Irish Historical Society were crowded with those who had benefitted from the many years of his wisdom and words and his vast knowledge of the wide world of art.