Wednesday, February 3, 2016

One Degree of Separation

Murray in his element! Jeff watches in admiration.
As many of you know by now, my good friend Murray Tinkelman passed away recently, following his wife Carol Tinkelman who we lost just a few weeks prior. Both Murray and Carol have been in my life for almost 25 years. After the passing of Carol, I was beyond devastated. It was something that I just couldn't come to terms with. I was worried about Murray and my heart went out to his daughters Ronnie and Susan. After hearing about the passing of Murray just after Carol, it was like another huge part of me was taken away. I was so glad that this last summer, I had the opportunity to talk with Murray privately to let him know how much he meant to me over the years. Ronnie and Carol later came to the table and listened. It was a special moment that I had with him. Several days before he passed, I talked to Murray on the phone. We discussed many things, including him teaching the history of illustration this summer and how I would support him in any way I could. I was just beginning to feel positive again. I ended the phone call by saying, "I love you Murray".  Murray passed on Saturday, January 30, just days later.

I was told of Murray's passing by his daughter Ronnie, who I feel a very close connection to, as she is very much like her mom Carol. Ronni said to me, "I think mom had a grand plan. She was going to get herself situated and then she was going to come back for dad and take care of him, as she always did. They were one heart and now they're together." I believe in the depths of my soul that she is right, because that was the way Carol was in life. Although I miss both of them beyond words, I keep them close to my heart. Sometimes loving somebody means letting them go. I know they are in a much better place and they are together, as they once were and forever shall be.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had both Murray and Carol in my life for as long as I have. I was able to experience Murray the teacher, the colleague and then most importantly the friend. My first encounter with Murray was when I had applied to become an artist member of the Society of illustrators in New York City. I didn't know it at the time, but Murray was one of the signers of my membership application. Dennis Dittrich (a former Murray grad student) was the chair of the new members committee at the time and often had board members sign for new members that did not have sponsors. Dennis was the one who called me to welcome me to the Society. Dennis and my paths would cross again.  

Later on that year, I was given a mailer by the chair of the art department at Rivier College. She told me that I was such a good teacher and that I should get a Masters degree because it would open up more possibilities in terms of teaching full-time if I wanted to down the road. On the brochure, it featured the work of illustrators Kinuko Craft and John Collier, who I later met in the program. After seeing an ad in Communication Arts magazine with the same inspirational faculty, I started to remember a former teacher of mine, Irena Roman (also a former grad student of Murray’s), mentioning to me something about this master’s program she had attended. So the universe was speaking to me, as they say.  I decided to make a phone call just to find out more information. As many of you know, Murray always gave out his home phone number for questions about the program. I called and Murray answered the phone. Carol must not have been home! This ended up being NOT a "short get some information” type call. We had a lengthy conversation. He was so inspirational, upbeat and exciting to talk to. His spirit and passion was contagious! In talking, he remembered my name and my work that I had submitted months earlier for my membership at the Society. Needless to say, I was hooked and attended the program that summer.
My experiences in the Syracuse ISDP program opened up my eyes to a plethora of amazing illustrators from around the country that were nothing but inspirational. There was also a common theme. Murray was a big promoter of “Artist as Entrepreneur”. Everybody that he exposed us to was innovative as well as creative. Murray certainly had a “build it and they will come” type attitude. 

During my stay in the program, I was able to work with legendary, Hall of Fame illustrators who are no longer with us. Dave Passalacqua, Herb Tauss and so many others. I know many of them now embrace Murray with open arms on the other side. I also was able to meet many illustrator friends in the program. One of them being my husband, Christopher Short who graduated in a different class than I did. My husband was also an undergraduate student of Murray's at Syracuse University. Our current collection of Golden Age illustration as well as contemporary illustration is a tribute to the passion for illustration that Murray exposed us to. Murray always joked around when he introduced me before I'd give a lecture about how I not only got an education but a husband from the ISDP program! Although technically Chris and I did not get together until after his graduation, Murray was right because we met each other in the program. Shayna Cochefski (our new Carol) and Chris Piascik you can relate, I'm sure! 

Powerhouse class I taught at the Syracuse ISDP MFA Program. Many of
them I had the honor to work with again  at the Hartford program.
Shown are with Mark BenderMike MassengaleScott BakalAnne Catharine BlakeDotlyun KownCharlie Beyl and James O'Brien. Also in that class were
Gerry Hampton and Don Kilpatrick.
Murray also introduced me to the rich history of illustration. In the two decades or more that I've known Murray, I've seen every one of his lectures numerous times. It is something I always look forward to each and every time. I'm so glad that Ronnie his daughter was able to videotape some of Murray's lectures during the last few contact dates in Hartford. It is my sincere hope that a copy of those tapes can be given to the Norman Rockwell Museum and placed in an online streaming archive so that every student who has a love for the field of illustration can have access to Murray's knowledge and words of wisdom. I am also going to contribute articles that I have written for various industry magazines, including many issues of the Communication Arts Illustration Annual where I have featured Murray as an authority. 

Through Murray, I also got to meet and interview legendary science-fiction illustrator Vincent DiFate. Vin is an incredible wealth of knowledge when it comes to the history of illustration and its genres. I’ve had long talks with Vin about so many topics in the field of illustration and I’ve cherished each and every one of them. He is the sweetest man and I am forever in debt to Murray for introducing such an amazing person into not only my life but my husband’s life. I’ve worked with Vin at the Society of Illustrators when he was chair of the Centennial Auction committee. Vin and Murray were best friends and whenever Murray would talk about Vin he did so with great admiration. When Vin was president of the Society of Illustrators in New York City, he asked Murray to illustrate his portrait. It now hangs in the members gallery at the Society. Both my husband and I have learned so much from Vin. He is truly a treasure and I can see why Murray chose him to be one of his closest friends. Check out Vin's tribute to Murray here.

Ted and Betsy with Murray and I hanging out doing our thing!
Upon my graduating from the Syracuse ISDP program, Murray asked me to teach the concepts class in the Syracuse undergraduate program as well as be an ongoing guest lecturer during their symposium class. He also asked me to lecture ongoing in the MFA program during the New York City contact dates which were held at Lubin House. I did this for many years. One particular time, when I was speaking at the NYC contact date, my path with Dennis Dittrich and Murray would again collide. I was teaching at a college in NJ as a temp for the year. They were looking for a full-time faculty. I was interested in starting a family at the time and was not looking at applying. But, I really wanted someone who would work with the students that I had grown to love. At Lubin House, I asked Murray if I could pass out handouts on the position. He said sure but told me to call Dennis Dittrich as soon as I got home to let him know. I did and today Dennis is currently a tenured professor at that college! Later, Dennis also became President of the Society of Illustrators, an avid lecturer under Murray’s guidance on the history of illustration and is the voice over on Murray’s Hall of Fame video in this post. Dennis and I have been friends ever since. It was such a pleasure to see him again at a recent Hartford Art School graduation exhibition and dinner. He was there to support a former student of his and graduate of the Hartford program, fantasy illustrator Jan Barlow. Dennis and I talked nonstop all night and the next day a bunch of us hung out with Murray for breakfast that turned into lunch! 

At the Hartford program I shared my knowledge but got just as much back
by making life long friends. Shown here are Carol Schwartz and Arden von Haeger.
After Murray left Syracuse, I taught the summer ISDP MFA program session along with artist Greg Manchess. I was able to hang out with Greg and other faculty with fond memories of the week we spent. I was also able to work with some great students in the class, many of which I am still in contact with today! I posted a picture that I found from that class. 

Shortly after Murray retired from the Syracuse program, he started up a limited residency program at the Hartford Art School. He asked me to teach in his program and I have done so since the beginning. In Murray's words, I paraphrase, "This program is one of my finest. I feel that I've learned a lot over the years and have really had the opportunity to put together some of the best illustrators who are also amazing teachers. I want you to teach here for as long as you want to." Of course, I said yes and the rest really is history.

Today, I teach with an amazing faculty. Ted and Betsy Lewin are not only award-winning children's book illustrators and world travelers but also one of the funniest couples I know. The stories they tell would knock your socks off! During our dinners over the summer contact dates in Hartford, Ted and Betsy would captivate us with their amazing adventures. You should check out their recent book How to Babysit a Leopard for an inside look at what incredible things they have done in their world travels as working artists. All I can say is monkey brains, stale mooponi (I can’t even spell this) worms, pushing a jeep out of alligator infested waters, almost being trampled and the list goes on…those are just some of the highlights that swirl in my head. Although these may be scary life-changing things for someone like me, Ted and Betsy talk about them in a way that is so funny. Tears start streaming out of my eyes and I can’t even talk because I'm laughing so hard. Their animated storytelling abilities are second to none!

Hanging out with former alum Jan Barlow and Jon Sideriadis
as well as current student
 Brian Bowes at a thesis exhibition.
Each summer, I also have the privilege to work with illustrators Chris Payne and Gary Kelley. Chris has a knack for humor. His ability to make facial expressions while he's using his voice to communicate a character not only on the pictorial surface but in real life is shy of amazing. To hear him tell a story is like watching a great sitcom come to life! Gary, although less theatrical than Chris, has some of the best side comments. Often at our dinners and lunches, I sat next to Gary. He'd always nudge me and say something under his breath that would just take the conversation over the top in terms of humor. It was always subtle but beyond insightful. Gary and Chris would often ride with me on the drive back to the hotel from school and our infamous late-night dinners. Gary would always sit in the front seat. It was a good thing because that guy is a human GPS. He has one of the keenest sense of directions of anybody I’ve ever known. We have been lost in the dark after going to restaurants we were not familiar...we always followed Carol's car but sometimes she was a bit too fast. But Gary always got us back to the hotel. Like I said a human GPS. 

In the car, Chris sits in the back and that sort of is a funny story in of itself. I often use the car that I bring my daughter to school in. The back doors have child protective locks on them but I don't know how to unlock them. So when we get back to the hotel, we always have to open the door for Chris. And we make jokes saying "We have to let the kid out". Both Chris and Gary love to kid with me about my driving, as they prefer the more scenic route from school back to the hotel. It is a winding road with turns and to this day I have never fully mastered it. But they like to go on the route with the big tree! On one of our travels back from school, we stopped to take reference of the big tree. Chris, I'm still waiting to see one of your illustrations with the infamous Big Tree!

Awesome t-shirts made by alum Chris Piascik. He
also designed the Murray shirts featured below
As the program grew, Murray brought in additional people to teach. One of them was Jeff Seaver, formally of the Seaver Brothers. This is an inside joke, one that only the Hartford group would understand. Recently, in a conversation with Ted and Betsy, Betsy was asking for Jeff's email and we were all on speakerphone. Ted then said "Which Jeff?" And of course, Betsy replied "What do you mean which Jeff, there’s only one Jeff!" Which then Ted replied, "Yes, but which one?" At this point, both Betsy and I cracked up hysterically. We both simultaneously knew where Ted was going with this. 

When Jeff was a busy illustrator, he created the Seaver Brothers which was basically several different versions of himself in different clothes. He shared this in one of his presentations to the Hartford group. This is just a small sampling of the Jeff experience. He is one of the most brilliant guys I know who has life stories that are so over-the-top crazy funny. I can't even begin to put into words the stories that have come up over the years that I have worked with him in Hartford. Like I said, it is the Jeff experience. He teaches in the room next to me and he has been such a great support for me. Anything goes wrong he leaps into action. Room starts stinking of massive chemical smell, go get Jeff. Loud construction noises coming from the other side of the room to the point one cannot hear oneself talk, go get Jeff. Kids camp gets out of control, go get Jeff. All I would do is walk in his room and I wouldn't even have to say anything. He would run up the stairs, which for Jeff was three strides, to get the maintenance crew.
Recent graduates with Murray and their infamous shirts!

In addition, I have had the privilege to work with illustrators Bill Thompson, Doug Anderson and Dennis Nolan. These guys are an amazing trio that Murray affectionately called the three muchachos! They work so well together, it's amazing to be in their presence. My buddy Doug has been such a great support system for me during the program. Any time I need a locker or assistance with the projector setup in my room or even getting access to the lab, Doug was always there with his warm smile to help. We also joke around each year that he's my official date for the graduation exhibition. We both fly solo during that event while everyone else is with their families. Doug and I hang out with each other and each year I always look at the work and come up with my favorites and Doug does the same. Although all the work is amazing each year, there are always one or two that resonate with me personally.

On the bus ride to the Norman Rockwell Museum
with Murray, Carol, Ted, Betsy, Doug
and all the students!
Bill and Doug have an ongoing thing with me when it comes to lunch at the school in the private dining room upstairs. It is set up as a buffet style lunch, with lots of options including amazing desserts. Bill and Doug always fill their plates…like a large mound. I really don't know where either of them put it. Then, after that they would fill their plates with an assortment of desserts. I've told them, I eat my desserts vicariously through you two! Doug would always put a desert on his plate that he knew I really liked. And then he would tell Bill how good it was. Bill would then do an underhanded chuckle and would further elaborate on the incredible deliciousness of this particular dessert. Both of them knowing that I would eventually cave in and go get one myself. Somehow I wonder if they have an ongoing bet of whether I would give in or not. Teaching at the Hartford art school is always a guaranteed 5 to 7 pound weight gain at the end of the week!

Murray at the Rockwell teaching the
history of illustration.
Dennis, on the other hand, taught in the first week, so I did not see him as much as Bill and Doug. But, he would often show up and do his talks. To know Dennis is to love him. He is also the most upbeat guy I know. There is one funny story that I'd like to share about Dennis. We were coming home from one of our dinners together one night and we were all in Bill's van and Dennis went in his own car. We were driving back to the hotel and I look to the right of us at a stoplight and I see Dennis singing and dancing in his car. He was really going to town on the steering wheel!  I immediately told everybody about it in the van and we all watched him until he eventually looked our way. It was hysterical! He was like a deer in headlights! We all laughed. Bill was driving and shared some great Dennis moments he has had in the undergraduate program at Hartford Art School. 

Dennis is also the originator of the official Hartford Art School faculty dress code! Those of you that are not aware, it is to wear the most colorful Hawaiian shirt you can find. Every single one of the faculty members, especially the men, wears one. One night at dinner, I was feeling so out of place because even Betsy was sporting the team look! Ted then asked me whose shirt that I like the best. I said Murray’s because it had a lot of black in it and I like a lot of black. Murray had the biggest grin on his face and just kept nodding his head and he then said “Yup me too!” Ted tried his hardest to convince me otherwise, mentioning the great lack of color in Murray’s shirt and how vibrant his was. Those two played off each other in such an amazing way. Carol would often say, “It’s like watching two kids having fun playing in a sandbox.” Murray, I am so forever grateful to you for allowing me to play in your sandbox for so many years.

Stephanie Plunkett takes us behind the scenes
in the Rockwell archives.
Getting back to Bill Thompson…he is such a joy to work with. He has a sense of dry humor that cracks me up. Just watch the graduation video featured in this post and you will see what I mean. It is a pee your pants type of laughing that results when you hang with Bill. He also has an amazing sensitive side to which I have great appreciation and admiration for. Bill is responsible for getting Murray into starting the Hartford Art School MFA program. Bill, I am forever grateful that you had that spark of genius along with Power Booth and Tom Bradley at that infamous lunch. 

Bill has been a student of Murray's since undergraduate school and considers Murray a father figure. Bill has now the responsibility to search for a new director of the program, a task that weighs heavy on his heart because of this intense love for Murray and Carol. All I know is that there will never be anybody able to fill Murray shoes. It will take a community of us to rally around whoever is selected just to even come close.

This summer, I will be teaching the first week in the Hartford contact period instead of the second. Jeff and I will be switching with Chris Spollen and Danny Pelavin. I got to meet both Chris and Danny at Murray's exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum. They play off each other so well. We all went to dinner after the exhibition and were able to share lots of laughs. I posted a picture in this article. The next morning, after the tremendous success of Murray's show, we all hung out at breakfast at the hotel. Both Chris and Danny were like a two-man comedy team and it was just nonstop laughs the whole morning. 

This summer, I will have the privilege to work with Bunny Carter again. I've profiled Bunny as well as both her parents in different articles for the Communication Arts Illustration Annual. One article was on Collecting American Illustration, which I was able to talk extensively to both her dad and mom. Another article was on Women in Illustration, which Bunny was one of the illustrators featured. As a side note, that particular article for Communication Arts was probably the one that I have gotten the most response to, especially from female graduate students from programs across the country wanting to use it in their papers. The article was also used by The Norman Rockwell Museum in an exhibition on women in illustration. The show was accompanied by a panel discussion to which I was a part of. Stephanie Plunkett filmed the panel and it is in the Norman Rockwell Museum archives. Bunny was featured in my article as the voice of a truly amazing woman, world-class working illustrator, author and mom who was able to juggle all that entails in such a seamlessly way. I can't wait to see her again this summer!

Me, Leslie Cober-Gentry and Carol Tinkelman at Murray's exhibition
at the Rockwell...Morning after's champagne breakfast!
In addition, I will be able to work with artist Robert Hunt. Although I don’t know Robert personally, his team show with friend Kazu Sano at the Society of Illustrators in NYC was my favorite exhibition at the Society, hands down! It was Murray that initially introduced me to both Kazu’s and Robert’s work through the Syracuse ISDP contact date in San Francisco. Kazu and I later became friends and I profiled his work in my book Art Revolution. I am also the proud owner of one of Kazu’s works that was in that show in NYC! It was a piece that he considered one of his major stepping stones in developing his style. Kazu has since passed away, and I will miss him dearly. Thank you Murray for introducing me to him.

Dinner after Murray's Rockwell exhibition. Hartford
faculty and former students hang and talk shop...and
other stuff that will not be mentioned!
This summer, I will also have the privilege to work with Hall of Fame illustrator Nancy Stahl. Nancy’s work was featured on the brochure for the traveling show of Women in Illustration, which featured works from the permanent collection of the Museum of American Illustration in New York. The show was curated by Murray and romance illustrator Doreen Minuto. I had the privilege of participating in this show and having one of my paintings in the permanent collection alongside both contemporary and historical women illustrators. I’m really looking forward to having fun with Nancy this summer! In addition to the permanent collection show on women in illustration, my husband and I also participated in Murray's First Wheels show. An exhibit about your first car. My husband also was a part of The Artist and the Baseball Card show, to which he traded his work for one of Murray's. Check it out below!

The newest addition to the program is Chris Georgenes. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet him in person yet, but I know he’s a great guy just from all of the great posts he has made about the program and his experiences thereof. Can’t wait to hang with him this summer! Jean Tuttle, Zina Saunders and Jim Carson also taught in the program at one time. I was not able to work with either of them directly but felt their presence in the program. Jim Carson passed a way a few years ago and he will be missed greatly. Check out the graduation video from the class of 2014 that made a tribute to Jim below:

In the last years of his life, Murray was able to share with us his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2013, his honorary doctorate of arts degree from Kendall College of Art and Design and his artist laureate honor and exhibition at The Norman Rockwell Museum to which many attended from all around the country. Murray was also honored with the Distinguished Educator's Award, years earlier. I feel great pleasure to have been one of the individuals on the education committee at the Society of Illustrators during that time that voted for Murray to receive such an award. 

I began this tribute to Murray with the words One Degree of Separation. If you knew Murray, you are one degree of separation from anybody else that is working in the business of illustration today. My story has just been the influence of one man on my personal journey. There are hundreds like me with similar stories. The impact Murray and Carol have had on the lives of so many is almost overwhelming to fully comprehend.
As we move forward as illustrators and educators, it is important that we realize that our impact on just one person can go a long way. Never feel that you are too tired or too busy to help someone else in their journey. Life is about relationships. We will be remembered through our words, gestures and guidance that we offer each other. Let Murray’s legacy set an example to each and every one of us to share what we have learned in our life and careers with the next generation of illustrators. Let our cumulative passion ignite a flame: a brilliant torch that Murray has now passed onto us.

Murray and Carol, I love you beyond words.


  1. Lisa,
    I loved reading your thoughts and memories. I liked following you on your art journey and life journey too and how Murray and Carol were interwoven along the way.

    Brought back some of my own memories.
    What special people to be loved by so many and to have touched so many lives.


  2. Lisa, An excellent tribute to Murray and Carol. I'll miss them dearly. Joe

    1. Know that they will always be with us in our hearts and in our life's work!

  3. This was a beautiful tribute Lisa. I loved reading this. Of course, I read everything you write eagerly!!! This was special. I pray that everyone picks up on your last paragraph. Never feel to tired, to busy to help someone on their journey. Such a powerful message and one that is life changing. I'm so thankful that you had Murray and Carol. Without them, it seems you would not be the beautiful person and exquisite artist you are today. I'm sad for your loss but thrilled by your reflections of the gift of their lives. j.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers! I feel so blessed to have had them both in my life for as long as I have.

    2. They did a nice tribute to Murray and Carol at Society last night.

    3. They did a nice tribute to Murray and Carol at Society last night.

  4. Such a beautiful tribute. I am again brought to tears. I only knew Carol and Murray a very short time but they touched my life so deeply. I have no words....

    1. I know. It has been hard for everyone. But feel blessed that Murray and Carol were in your life, introducing you to so many art friends and colleagues. Know that they see your heart even now and will always hold a place there when you think of them. Big hugs from me to you!

  5. Lisa, that was beautiful.
    I read it twice because I didn't want it to end. We were both lucky to have them in our lives but always remember, and I heard it from the horses mouth that you were his favorite. : ) B
    : )

    1. Brian...I just love you...So happy to have you in my life...Big hugs...See you soon...You will at the SI opening right?

  6. Thank you, Lisa, for writing such a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to Murray. I have read it twice and cried both times, especially seeing the graduation video. Our lives are so much richer for knowing Murray. When I see clips of him being funny and entertaining, like when he said, "There are always some turkeys in the bunch," it brings back memories of how much I enjoyed just being around Murray and Carol. How much they both cared about family and friends, which included a huge illustration community. We are so very lucky to have experienced his knowledge, inspiration and love for illustration. We miss them both terribly.