Artist and illustrator Murray Tinkelman will display work at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
Artist and illustrator Murray Tinkelman will display work at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. (Myrray Tinkelman / Courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum)

STOCKBRIDGE -- Illus tra tor Murray Tinkelman may not have the name recognition of a Norman Rockwell, Saul Steinberg or Maurice Sendak, but within the profession he is respected by generations of followers as an educator and historian.

"He does not teach drawing or painting -- he teaches thinking," was how one admirer put it.

Despite his student following, academic honors and intimate knowledge of illustration history, Tinkelman says he never studied education, never finished art school and counts a vocational diploma as his highest degree.

Known for fiction and fantasy book illustrations early in his career, and more recently for his images of baseball and western culture, Brooklyn-born Tin kelman, at age 81, still teaches illustration in a master's program at the Hartford (Conn.) Art School, lectures widely and markets his realistically drawn, black-and-white artworks to magazines and collectors.

Long an adviser and more recently a trustee of the Norman Rockwell Museum, he is being honored with an exhibition opening this weekend marking his 60-year career.

"Baseball, Rodeos, and Auto mobiles: The Art of Murray Tink elman" will be on view through June 15, as part of the museum's ongoing Distinguished Illustrator series. Tickelman talked about his love of illustration, his teaching style and the history and future of his field in a telephone interview recently. Q: You are as much an educator as an illustrator. Students say you teach them how to think. What do you get them to think about?

A: That there are no parameters. That everyone's personal style or personal point of view or personal vision is valid -- and I try to help them realize what their vision is.

Q: How do you accomplish that?

A: I create assignments that are very general. When they work on them, I can find out very quickly what they're like, what their inner self is, what their proclivities are, and just take it from there.

Q: That seems like a gift that some teachers have.

A: No. It's just being open-minded. I'm so tired of definitions that fine art is what you make for yourself and illustration is what you make for somebody else. I don't believe in that at all.

Q: There isn't as much call any more for the hands-on artistic work Norman Rock well used to do. What is the market like today for illustrators?

A: There is book illustration. The graphic novel is burgeoning, and there's a voracious market for fresh talent. There are many more magazines -- not like the old Saturday Evening Post -- but there are untold hundreds of special-interest magazines, all of which need some illustration.

Q: Are you including the digital world or just print?

A:My specialty is print, but I certainly do not ignore the digital world. I think it's very important. It's here; it's a reality. But the prerequisites for making good art are the same for somebody who is working digitally or in print or in a fine art setting. To know how to draw, how to use color, how to compose a picture [is] relevant in a painting or illustration or a video game.

Q: You say you don't have degrees in art. It seems that colleges and universities think of nothing but degrees in hiring faculty.

A:That's true. Chances are if I was who I am today without the experience of founding art departments and getting an honorary doctorate and being a professor emeritus, I'd probably have a rough time getting a job, because people in the position of hiring are very timid, very degree-oriented.

Q: You've seen decades of changes in the field. Do you have thoughts on how things developed?

A: Each decade has a flavor or look to it. What I teach is about [cultural] forces [that influence] why art looks the way it does.

Q: Did you ever meet Nor man Rockwell?

A: No. I never ever did. Rockwell was a beacon. His art was not affected by style or fashion. It was pure art, pure painting.

Q: Lately, you turned your own personal interests into something you could market.

A: When I was in my 70s, I realized I didn't want to do assignments any more, so just started mining my past [for subjects] and had a couple of one-man shows.

Q:
These became books?

A: Not books, exactly, but magazine articles and exhibitions.

Q: What are you showing at the Rockwell museum?

A:Mostly work from the late 1960s through today. It's all subject-driven -- cowboys, [American] Indians, cars, motor cycles and stuff that thrills little boys. The majority of work is black and white ink drawings.

Q:What do you hope viewers will take away?

A: Maybe some of the excitement I have in capturing the spirit of the subject matter. I want them to have a feeling that I, as an artist, was not [just] a spectator, but a participant.

If you go ...

What: ‘Baseball, Rodeos, and Automobiles: The Art of Murray Tinkelman.'

Where: Norman Rockwell Museum, Route 183, Stockbridge

When: Opening with the artist on Saturday, March 29, 6 p.m.

Information: nrm.org
(413) 298-4100