Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lunch with Murray

What do Murray Tinkelman...

Bob Levering...

... and Mitchell Hooks all have in common? Well, for starters, they are all fabulous illustrators who got their start in New York during the mid-20th century. I can tell you something else they have in common; they are all wonderful, gracious gentlemen with whom anyone would be fortunate to spend some time.

Say, over lunch.

So what do Murray Tinkelman, Bob Levering and Mitchell Hooks all have in common with me? Well, about two weeks ago - on my birthday - the four of us were sharing a table in the dining room of the Society of Illustrators in New York City... having lunch.

To say I was thrilled beyond belief would be an understatement!

I never imagined I'd ever even set foot in the door of the Society and yet here I was - as Murray's invited guest - eating, drinking and sharing stories with three of my idols. Hanging on the wall just inches from my head, a gorgeous original by N.C. Wyeth - and lining the walls all around this bright, inviting room; original artworks by so many of the giants of the golden age of illustration.

Some twenty feet away, hanging over the bar, a magnificent original by Norman Rockwell. "Its probably worth more than the entire building," Murray said to me in an aside as I gawked in amazement. I'm still not sure but I suspect he was only half joking.

Hanging near the ceiling in another part of the room, Al Parker's drum, signed by his many illustrator friends and associates. "Make sure you get a picture of that," advised Murray. So I did.

The show currently on display in the Society dining room is called "Pirates, Petticoats and Puffy Sleeves" and if you are in a position to go see it I promise you will come away feeling awestruck.

This magnificent Saul Tepper is a fitting introduction to the show, but I bet that, like me, you'll find yourself captivated by each and every piece you stand in front of as you make your way around the room. Murray and I toured the show together and all I could say was "wow... wow... wow..." as we stopped and admired each glorious piece. Its great to know that so many beautiful works of art have been saved - after all these years - and are secure and well cared for in the best possible home they could have. It was fantastic to see that the good people at the Society of Illustrators bring these treasures out into the light of day so a new generation can admire and learn from and be inspired by them.

As if a long lunch in this magical place with these wonderful people wasn't enough of a birthday gift, we were joined afterwards by Murray's lovely wife Carol and Eric Fowler, the genial Collections Manager of the Society, who suggested we head upstairs and take a look in "the vault".

Here are Murray and Carol Tinkelman chatting with Bob Levering near Eric's work space in the Collection Room. You can see Eric heading into the deepest, darkest part of the collection in search of some original Robert Fawcetts for us to look at.

Here's Bob Levering, age 91 and one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I had brought along a dozen or so colour print-outs of Bob's illustrations from his Cooper studio days of the '50s for us to discuss, and he was just so pleased to see them. His originals are long gone and I suspect he probably doesn't have any tearsheets anymore... so he was really appreciative to see those 'old friends' again. Propped up behind Bob, a Robert Fawcett original from Collier's magazine, circa 1951.

With Eric's assistance, we soon had an original Charles Dana Gibson and a James Montgomery Flagg to compare. Murray wanted to make a point about why Gibson was such a superior draftsman. I wish I had recorded that conversation, but frankly I was too overwhelmed by being immersed in the whole experience to do much more than snap a few blurry pictures with my phone.

Before we knew it Eric was looking at his watch and saying, "Well folks, I'm afraid I have to close up shop for the day." Suddenly it had become 5:30 -- our little group had just spent the entire afternoon happily chatting away and completely lost track of the time.

Here are Murray and Carol leading the way back down to the main floor. Two in front of Murray hangs an original Mitchell Hooks (in all the excitement I'd forgotten to take a picture of Mitch!) and just beyond it, on the next wall going down the stairs, a typically outstanding space scene by Robert McCall.

Back on the main floor, Murray suggested we check in on the folks hanging what is the Society of Illustrators' current big show.

Its entitled "Earth: Fragile Planet" and showcases the work of a wide array of some of the best artists currently working in the business.

Way back at the top of this post I showed a piece Murray did for the New York Times Op-Ed page back in 1972... and here I found the original, hanging just inside the entrance of the gallery at the front of the show. Murray explained that with the current crisis involving BP down in the Gulf Coast, this piece seemed, nearly 40 years later, sadly relevant and appropriate once again.

We took our time wandering around enjoying the tremendous variety of styles and executions in the 120 pieces that comprise the Earth: Fragile Planet show. The intent was to give artists "a forum to set forth their personal views about the state of the world and the environment" and I think it succeeds magnificently.

Here are Murray, Carol, and Eric in the middle distance at left and Bob Levering in the background.

The show opened on Thursday June 3rd and will be in place at the Society of Illustrators for 9 weeks. If you are in a position to do so, I encourage you to drop by the Society at 128 E 63rd St. and spend some time taking it in (and if you can, make your way upstairs and see the show in the dining room, too!).

Here are the important details...

And with that, my lunch with Murray Tinkelman came to an end. As we lingered by the front entrance saying our goodbyes, I suddenly felt compelled to embrace this fine fellow. Reaching out for him I said, "C'mere Murray - its my birthday - I gotta get a hug from Murray Tinkelman on my birthday." Murray laughed and, wonderful guy that he is, gave me a great big, genuine, warm hug. I said my final goodbye and wandered away, back toward Central Park. I needed some time to mull over all the details of this remarkable day.

Murray, Carol, Bob and Mitchell... Eric and all the other friendly, interesting people I'd met at the Society, and their kind and cordial treatment of me... all that stunning artwork I'd come in such close contact with... it was all a little overwhelming. It was the best birthday gift I could ever have hoped for!

* Murray Tinkelman is a recently-inducted Trustee of the Norman Rockwell Museum. Congratulations, Murray!


  1. Is Mead Schaeffer's "Blue Roadster" still hanging in the dining room? My favorite Schaeffer piece and I couldn't take my eyes off it the last time I was there.

  2. Joe; you know, I recall seeing a Schaeffer but honestly, I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of great pieces by so so many names I know so well. And to be in New York, in the SoI, in the company of those amazing people as they told stories about 'the good ol' days' - honestly, it was a whirlwind! I'm still beaming from ear to ear :^)

  3. During grad school, the Society felt like my home away from the upstairs library, we heard lectures from more of my heroes than I ever thought I'd meet :)

    Many happy memories...thanks for a great post Leif!

  4. Just sounds like an incredible time!

  5. What a blissful day for you; it'll stay with you for many more birthdays. Thanks for sharing the experience with all opf us.

  6. That Al Parker's Drum goes on reverberatin...The sheer emotion of your Birthday trip here as well. Great Lunch!

  7. A very nice and refreshing post, thanks!

  8. Howard Chaykin3:06 PM


    FYI, the piece you identified as a Tepper is THE HIGHWAYMAN by Schaeffer. All of us covet that piece--it's astonishing.

    Glad you had a good time at the Society--it remains a bright spot for me whenever I'm in NYC.

  9. Thanks for correcting me on that, Howard -- I was 50/50 on if I was remembering that piece correctly. The Tepper was likely a couple of frames along (and I don't know illustrators from this slightly earlier period very well by style).

    Interesting to hear this Schaeffer is a 'grail' piece -- having stood in its presence I can certainly appreciate why; its magnificent! :^)

  10. Leif,

    I had the distinct pleasure of sitting with Murray and Carol at the wedding of a couple of very close friends of mine several years ago. I can confirm what gracious and wonderful people they both are. Murray is a gem, and Carol was so supportive of this illustrator's stories of trying to make it in today's industry. Just a superlative couple! I was also lucky enough to have spent a lunch with Murray and that same friend (Dave DeVries) at the Society a few years before, and that experience, like yours, was also incredible. We are fortunate to have such fantastic, generous talents in our midst! Thanks for the great article!


  11. What a great birthday!

  12. I gotta get out there. That would be a great trek for any illustrator.

  13. Leif-

    It sounds like you had a great time. It's amazing seeing old originals. Such great artists!

    I used to go to SI all the time when I was in NY. Another place I recommend, if you take another trip there, is the Illustration House.

    Speaking of SI I recently saw a 70's movie called "Loving". The main character is an Illustrator and they filmed a scene at the Society.

    Thought you might get a kick out of it. I did.

  14. you lucky so-and-so.

    i've been fortunate enough to be upstairs at the society twice. the first for a mad magazine christmas party and the second for a spectrum art show. both times i spent the entire evening with my nose about ten inches from the wall. that dining room is just a magical place.

    happy birthday indeed!