Monsey Artist Unveils Yogi Painting to Yogi

The Journal News – Article by Jake Thomases; Photo by Shawheen Hazrati

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Monsey Artist Unveils Yogi Painting to Yogi

From left, Yogi Berra, Dean Lombardo and Graig Kreindler show off Kreindler's painting for Berra's permanent museum collection in Montclair, N.J. The painting is of the Oct. 8, 1956, perfect game by Don Larsen.

February 23, 2008 – The artist tried to play it cool when he presented the painting to its subject.

Secretly he hoped Yogi Berra would gasp in astonishment, would be overwhelmed by how lifelike the image was and be transported back to that day in 1956 when he jumped into Don Larsen’s arms after Larsen’s World Series perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Boy, how long did it take you to do this?” Berra asked.

No doubt he liked it. Not quite astonishment, but the artist would take it.

“For the first time in my life, I felt star-struck,” Graig Kreindler said. “I almost felt like I should bow to him.”

Kreindler managed to keep his head off the floor. It was hard. Not even a year before he’d gotten his first commission to do a baseball painting, and here he was handing a painting of Yogi Berra to Yogi Berra.

“For Graig, who’s 27 years old and who’s been in the last year thrust into the spotlight, this is all new to him,” said Dean Lombardo of Objects & Images, the Bronxville gallery that hosts Kreindler’s work. “He’s loving it as well as being a little overwhelmed.”

Kreindler was still working at Lehman College, where he’d recently completed a Masters degree in arts education, when a friend recommended a visit to Objects & Images. Squeezed between other works he had brought for Lombardo was a color painting of an iconic baseball scene. He’d dabbled in baseball scenes in college, a product of his Yankee-mad household in Monsey – Graig was named after former Yanks third baseman Graig Nettles.

Lombardo fell in love. By the time they presented the Berra painting, Kreindler had finished 40 baseball scenes with 10 more in the works.

It gives him an excuse to go to games. While everyone else plays scoreboard trivia or calls for the Cracker Jacks guy, he studies the way the grandstand shadows fall, the way dirt patterns itself on uniforms. Even game strategy has become more apparent, because when he gets commissioned to paint a scene from 40 or 50 years ago, he has to know where the players would logically be standing and what they’d be doing.

“If I had noticed that when I was younger, I might have been a better Little League player,” he said.

Not long into his professional career, he offered to donate a piece to the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J. Museum director David Kaplan checked out his work and readily agreed. The scene would be Berra jumping into Larsen’s arms after the perfect game, an iconic image known to any student of baseball history.

The only photographs of that day are in black and white, forcing Kreindler to research the color of the uniforms, the color of the grass, the style of Berra’s shin guards.

In a month he had it completed. It sat in his house for months before he presented it to the museum in late January, where it will hang in the skybox area. Kaplan called it “an exquisite piece of art.” The artist, after not looking at it for months, disagreed. He hated it.

“I almost want to break into the museum at night and fix it,” he said.

Still, Kreindler desperately wanted Yogi to love it. He unveiled it to the Yankees’ icon and waited for him to start describing that day in 1956. It didn’t happen. The icon was impressed, but talked only about regular things – restaurants, the old neighborhood, the football Giants. It wasn’t what he expected out of a man with a penchant for quotability.

Kreindler was enjoying himself and loved that Berra was treating him like a friend, but it wasn’t what he envisioned on his drive to New Jersey. On a whim, Kreindler asked him about the Yankees’ managerial situation, and how similar Joe Girardi was to Joe Torre.

“Joe isn’t like Joe, but at the same time, Joe is like Joe because Joe learned from Joe,” Berra replied.