Born William Paul Maltby Sykes in Aberdeen, Mississippi, in 1911, Maltby Sykes enjoyed a long and prolific career as a painter, printmaker, and art instructor. He studied at the University of Alabama under Arthur Bairnsfather, at the Art Students League in New York under John Sloan, and with Diego Rivera in Mexico, where he served as a mural assistant on four frescoes for the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City.
In 1934, Sykes was given the chance to observe the renowned American printmaker George C. Miller at work in New York, which quickly instilled in him what would become a deep and abiding interest in lithography. In the early 1940s Sykes returned to Birmingham, Alabama, and began to establish a name for himself as a portrait painter. From 1942 to 1977 Sykes taught at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), with the exception of a two-year stint in the Air Force where he served as an instructor of art and as a combat artist in Guam and Iwo Jima.
In 1967, Sykes became Auburnís first Artist-in-Residence. Over the course of his career, he garnered numerous awards over the course of his career and his works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Air Force Museum in Washington, D.C., the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, the University of Alabama, and many other institutions. Sykes passed away in 1992.