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“Accessibly Human” – Baseball’s Norman Rockwell

Christy Mathewson

Graig Kreindler’s goal is clear “to portray the national pastime in an era when players were accessibly human, and the atmosphere of a welcoming ballpark was just as important as what happened on the field.”  I read that line on the landing page of Graig’s website after a color picture of Christy Mathewson showed up on one of my social media feeds. 

I could never fully visualize baseball from the turn of the last century through the 1950s, since it was in black and white, until a colorized ruggedly handsome Mathewson appeared.  Mathewson in my head was a fictional character, as was Ruth, Gehrig, and Josh Gibson.

Mathewson led me to Kreindler and his emotive paintings of the National Pastime, there was depth to what I saw, no longer a grainy picture but a realness to the moment.  For Kreindler getting the moment right historically is important, it is what drives him, consciously or subconsciously it brings him to the warm summer days of the late 1980s at Yankee Stadium with his family watching batting practice, soaking in the sun as Bob Sheppard’s stately voice soothes the excitable.

Kreindler’s line “…and the atmosphere of a welcoming ballpark was just as important…”, reinforces the feeling of being at or in a stadium with great sight lines, acoustics, and aromas overwhelming the senses and bringing many to a kid like state of euphoria, as they escape the day-to-day grind and stresses of life while attending a ball game and venue that provides this temporal goodness.

I am a nostalgia aficionado, I romanticize moments, players, and teams all the time, it is what I am searching for when I attend games. Going back to Graig’s line, “…in an era when players were accessibly human…”, romanticizing players is what Kreindler does so well, he brings the “accessibly human” part to bear, as Norman Rockwell did with everyday moments, Graig does for baseball. (Graig has won the Norman Rockwell Museum Award and Illustration Academy Award from the Society of Illustrators

“Thick Air” – Hank Greenberg, Goose Goslin, Charlie Gehringer, Pete Fox – 1934

Understanding the mindset of baseball players and fans helps to understand Graig, he is obsessive, not in a mentally debilitating way but in getting the symmetry of the moment correct.  To Graig the color of a sign on the outfield wall, the clouds in the sky, shadows on the field, and the dampness of the uniform are as important to him as the batting average, ERA, and wins are to players.  

I was quite nervous to talk to Graig, he has a considerable following, he sells his artwork to well healed collectors, he has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, National Review and a host of other media outlets.  He was very gracious and extremely modest, married to a writer who isn’t a baseball fan but knows Sandy Koufax was a Dodger.  

Graig says it is a godsend to have a partner that understands when he is cursing and breaking brushes or when she is banging her head on the keyboard.  He doesn’t think a non-creative would understand what is going on in his headspace and why it is imperative to get the fold of a uniform just right, as he has stated many times, “Artistic license for him is not an option”.

The refreshing part of Graig and the connection he has to baseball, from his name pronounced Greg like Graig Nettles, 3rd baseman of the Yankees in the 1970s and 1980s, whom he was named after since his dad is a huge Yankee fan, is he was just trying to stand apart from the rest of his classmates at New York’s School of Visual Arts. 

Josh Gibson – Quiet Confidence

Growing up he was the “school artist” he was just good at drawing things and wanted to fit in wherever he could, it didn’t cross his mind that he was going to make a career doing baseball visual history, he did assume he would do something in the arts, but when he got into NY-SVA the realization that all of his classmates were the “school artist” set in and he needed to find a genre he was interested in, thus baseball became prominent.  

As fans, we tend to forget how memories were/are created in our minds as we attend the sterile version the MLB gives us in today’s day and age, we are spoiled by the convenience and untroubled by baseballs dark past.  Even the darkness has a romantic side, with Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and Hank Aaron.  Graig says there is constant pressure to preform and provide for his two kids, “…but there’s also pressure to fulfill whatever it is that we need to do creatively and make the kind of work that we’re proud of,” he says.  For Graig it is painting the forgotten, the less notable especially the Negro League players like he did of Josh Gibson in “Quiet Confidence”.

I found Graig to be “accessibly human”, his honesty and openness about what he is trying to accomplish with his art is humbling, his surprise when I call him brilliant confuses me, he is still amazed that people think his work is good and are willing to pay good money for it.  He acknowledges that he is “competent” at what he does but he says he is not in the league of Norman Rockwell, I disagree.

To see more of Graig’s amazing work his website is https://www.graigkreindler.com/ .

Hear Graig in Ballpark Confidential Podcast’s first interview below, don’t forget to hit the follow button.

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1 thought on ““Accessibly Human” – Baseball’s Norman Rockwell

  1. Great story! The impact and influence baseball has on us, as a whole community, is not lost in your writing! This brings back memories of warm summer nights listening to baseball on the radio waiting to hear the score or how a hit played out! Keep your storiescoming!

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