The Old Ballgame, Recreated in ColorMay 27, 2007 – He roots for Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the team at least once a week, but after a few innings Graig Kreindler often feels compelled to flip off the TV and head downstairs to his basement painting studio in Airmont, N.Y. There, on the easel before him, he encounters a different breed of Yankee: Mantle. DiMaggio. Gehrig. Ruth.
The fans recognize these Hall of Famers from famous photographs depicting unforgettable moments in baseball history. But most people today have no idea how Babe Ruth crossing home plate or Lou Gehrig delivering his farewell speech appeared in living color: the keepsake images emblazoned on the collective memory are in black-and-white.
Mr. Kreindler is trying to change that, one memorable baseball scene at a time.
You could think of him as the Ted Turner of great moments in sports history, except that Mr. Kreindler doesn’t rely on computerized colorization but instead conducts painstaking research to ensure that the hues he chooses are accurate. Before putting brush to canvas he frequently spends up to a month deciphering colors, from team uniforms to the Philip Morris ads hanging behind the crowd.
“Artistic license, to me, is not an option,” said Mr. Kreindler, 27, who has won the Norman Rockwell Museum Award and Illustration Academy Award from the Society of Illustrators. “I want it to be perfect. I can find myself being a slave to it sometimes, but it also keeps me happy.”
Mr. Kreindler, named for the Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles, says his interest in vintage baseball was fed by his father’s captivating eyewitness accounts of Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, and his baseball card collection, dating back to the 1940s.
“I was the only kid in my fourth-grade class who knew who Don Larsen was, who knew why Gil Hodges belonged in the Hall of Fame,” Mr. Kreindler said. “These players were as important to me as the current Yankees.”
Mr. Kreindler was seeking a career in sci-fi illustration when he enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. But when, for a 2002 classroom assignment, he needed to paint a relationship, he thought: Why not a pitcher and a batter? Why not a young Mickey Mantle?
Armed with several photographs showcasing Mantle’s batting stance, Mr. Kreindler focused on recreating the Yankee Stadium of 1951 or so. He scoured newspaper articles on microfilm, pored over the book “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century” and searched the online Advertising Archives for hints about period billboards. The research was so intriguing that he abandoned the sci-fi genre altogether.
Mr. Kreindler’s Mickey Mantle painting was accepted into the Society of Illustrators’ 2002 scholarship competition; the next year he won a $1,000 scholarship for a painting of Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium in 1939, head bowed, standing before a fleet of microphones at home plate, about to address the crowd assembled in his honor.
Mr. Kreindler felt confident about that painting’s accuracy, except for one detail: He had been forced to guess what colors appeared in a Gem razor blade advertisement after his research turned up no hints. But a few months later he visited the American Museum of Natural History’s “Baseball as America” exhibition and came across home-movie footage provided by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Suddenly he was looking at Yankee Stadium circa 1939 in color, including the Gem ad.
“It was the smoking gun I was looking for,” he said.
He contacted the Hall of Fame for a copy of the film and a brief, color home movie of Gehrig’s speech. After watching, Mr. Kreindler realized that he had also painted some marching band uniforms the wrong color. He decided he had to redo the painting.
“Rather than fixing a painting,” he said, “I’d rather do a new one — probably because when I was a kid, I’d never erase things. If I didn’t like the mark I’d made, I’d crumple it up and start over.”
His second version of Gehrig’s farewell speech was larger, 38 by 52 inches, and since then Mr. Kreindler has worked exclusively on oversize canvases.
He has also painted almost nothing but historic baseball, though he made an exception when an elementary school teacher he met while working toward his master’s in art education commissioned him to depict the 2004 Red Sox winning the World Series.
In the middle of that project Mr. Kreindler met Bill Goff, owner and president of GoodSportsArt.com , which sells limited-edition baseball-themed prints. He asked Mr. Kreindler, the ardent Yankee fan, to paint a second version of the Red Sox victory to be sold as prints through his company.
“I said, ‘It’ll hurt, but I’ll do it,’ ” Mr. Kreindler recalled with a chuckle. “It was a depressing scene to paint but part of the ongoing fabric of the sport — and certainly just as valid as any Yankee moment.”
About half of Mr. Kreindler’s 600 signed, numbered prints — $140 each — have sold.
It’s rare for a baseball artist to be recognized outside the sports-art world, but Dean Lombardo, owner of Objects & Images Fine Art gallery in Bronxville, N.Y., plans to show Mr. Kreindler’s paintings and produce a catalog of his work later this year.
“This would be the only sports-related art I’ve ever dealt with,” Mr. Lombardo said. “He combines something that I haven’t seen in other people: He mixes nostalgia with amazing contemporary painting skills, and to me that’s a complete package.”
To create and showcase his nostalgic, impressionistic paintings, Mr. Kreindler has commandeered much of his childhood home in Airmont, in Rockland County, where he still lives with his parents. The walls display his work, and his studio fills the basement, with a floor-to-ceiling easel, paint-spattered tarps and scores of completed paintings. His bedroom overflows with sports auction catalogs, baseball reference books, videos of classic games.
A prominent spot is given to the letter Mr. Kreindler received from the New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson in response to a research question about his 1951 home run that cost the Brooklyn Dodgers the National League pennant — the “shot heard ’round the world.” (This is the only contact Mr. Kreindler has had with any player he has painted.)
If he doesn’t aspire to see his work in art museums, Mr. Kreindler does dream about his art some day hanging on the walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Like a farm-team minor-leaguer working toward his shot in the majors, Mr. Kreindler is angling for his chance by donating paintings to smaller baseball museums.
He is completing a four-foot-square project for the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J., a depiction of Berra, the Yankee catcher, jumping into Don Larsen’s arms after Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. David Kaplan, the museum’s director, said the painting would be given a prominent spot when a yearlong renovation is completed.
Mr. Kreindler’s next painting is to depict the opening day no-hitter Bob Feller pitched for the Cleveland Indians in 1940, which he is creating for the museum in Van Meter, Iowa, dedicated to Feller.
The Feller museum’s manager, Scott Havick, spoke of his reaction to Mr. Kreindler’s work. “You’re there,” he said. “You’re right there at the moment.”
And that’s exactly what Mr. Kreindler wants to hear.
“I’d rather people say, ‘I remember those days at Yankee Stadium,’ than ‘Your painting looks just like a photograph,’ ” he said. “If somebody thought of me when they thought of a visual baseball historian, as an artist in that regard, that would be amazing.”