Hirschfeld's work on display

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a typographical error in Al Hirschfeld's name. The Journal regrets the error.

MANCHESTER — The work of legendary illustrator Al Hirschfeld is coming to Manchester.

A gallery exhibit of Hisrchfeld's drawings and prints will open on Friday at the Art Manchester space at 4802 Main St., and will be open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and by appointment into October.

An opening reception was scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, with Manchester actor Treat Williams — a subject of four Hirschfeld illustrations himself — expected to attend.

Hirschfeld's 82-year career as an illustrator chronicled the golden age of Broadway and Hollywood. Much of that history, and the larger than life personalities he drew in caricature, will be on display in the exhibit.

The showing is being presented by the Al Hirschfeld Foundation in partnership with Art Manchester and The Mill in East Arlington, whose founder, Dr. Joshua Sherman, is on the Foundation's board of directors.

About 100 of Hirschfeld's illustrations will be available for viewing and/or purchase, including a number of his artist proofs.

David Leopold, the artistic director of the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, said this the first time the foundation has ever staged a remote gallery show. Last year the foundation brought several dance-related works to Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., but that was only for a weekend.

"He would say it's insane, which was to him the seal of approval," Leopold said when asked what the late artist would think of the show. "We started talking about this six to eight weeks ago. Most people would say 'that's too crazy.' We said 'what a great opportunity.' I think he would have liked that."

As Leopold and Sherman pointed out, the opportunity to see Hirschfeld's work up close reveals a deeper understanding of his process and intent. His original of a TV Guide cover featuring the cast of "Ally McBeal," for example, shows the erasure marks where he made editorial decisions about the length of a neck, or the design of a dress.

What it is about Hirschfeld that still appeals? Is it the seeming simplicity? The talent for caricature that exaggerates physical features and brings personalities alive? Or perhaps his skill at hiding his daughter Nina's name in every illustration, creating a running parlor game for his own art?

The answer is "all of the above," Leopold and Sherman said.

"The more you look at it the more you realize how sophisticated it is," Leopold said. "Yes for some people it's the expressive nature of the line. For some people it's finding the Ninas. For some people it's the people in the drawings. If you polled 10 people they would give you 10 different reasons why they like it. There's no one reason."

Leopold and Sherman, the founder of the Art Mill in East Arlington, both have strong connections to Hirschfeld. Leopold is the author of two books on the artist, and Sherman is a lifelong fan who worked as a teenager helping archive the artist's life's work in New York. Both men knew and worked with him.

The gallery came about when Sherman raised the possibility with Carolyn Blitz of Mountain Media LLC in a discussion of ways the community could capitalize on the coming ITVFest. Originally, 50 of Hirschfeld's works were to be displayed at 4802 Main St., a retail space provided by Manchester Designer Outlets. But once the foundation saw the available space, "we decided to go all in," Leopold said.

The bulk of the show is ink on board drawings in Hirschfeld's own hand, as well as limited edition artist proofs that came directly from the artist's studio on the Upper East Side of New York. The foundation only began selling the artist proofs this year, and they will be on sale here, as well as books and T-shirts.

"Almost everything that's here was once within a few feet of Hirschfeld's barber chair and drawing table," Leopold said.

The gallery will also feature a space for children, and a "find the Ninas" activities for kids of all ages, challenging visitors to find the name hidden in Hirschfeld's drawings.

For Sherman, Hirschfeld's influence on his life and his love of the performing arts can't be quantified.

"As a kid I loved theater and art. And Hirschfeld I first discovered in The New York Times, when I was six years old and I was a kid in Kansas. It was my connection to music, to theater, to dance, to anything that I aspired to," Sherman said. "He was this amazing combination of theater and art, or celebrity and art."

Sherman started laboring over drawings, trying to copy Hirschfeld's work. Eventually his path led to New York, where he interned at Hirschfeld's gallery as a teenager.

Hirschfeld's caricature line drawings captured the outsized personalities, moods and personality quirks of the stars of stage and silver screen for decades. He illustrated countless newspaper pages, movie posters, magazine covers and record album covers as diverse as the Broadway cast recording of "Man of La Mancha" and Aerosmith's "Draw The Line." His career included a 75-year relationship with The New York Times and covers for publications including Playbill, TV Guide and The New Yorker.

Hirschfeld died in 2003 at the age of 99, while still an active artist. On what would have been his 100th birthday, the former Martin Beck Theater on West 45th Street in New York was renamed in his honor.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.


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