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Fantastical Creatures burrow in at Rockwell Museum

Fantastical Creatures burrow in at Rockwell Museum

Artwork of Tony DiTerlizzi featured
Fantastical Creatures burrow in at Rockwell Museum
The poster for the Rockwell exhibit shows artwork by Tony DiTerlizzi
Photographer: photo provided

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass.- Fairies, dragons, sprites and griffins don’t often take up residence in the Norman Rockwell Museum.

But they’ll be settling in on Nov. 11 with “Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi” and staying until next year. 

The exhibition is a retrospective look at DiTerlizzi’s prolific career as an illustrator, author and world-builder. It will include illustrations from “Spiderwick Chronicles,” “The Spider and the Fly,” “Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World Moon Pie Adventure,” “Kenny and the Dragon” and many others. 

Just as his illustrations have offered readers, gamers and moviegoers an escape into another realm, the exhibition is an excursion into another world, with a few interactive pieces.   

In the Spiderwick wing of the exhibition, visitors can enter into a swarm of fairies with a large fairy mobile, which DiTerlizzi was creating when he spoke with The Gazette. 

“There’s a mirror that clips to the center of it so if you look up, you’ll see yourself in the middle of a swarm of fairies,” DiTerlizzi said. 

Bringing DiTerlizzi to the Norman Rockwell Museum was a no-brainer, said curator Jesse Kowalski. Rockwell was a great influence on DiTerlizzi, which is evident in his expressive characters (although DiTerlizzi’s characters tend to be otherworldly, while Rockwell's took a human form). 

“His style is completely different for each project,” Kowalski said, “His style is always changing.”

“Never Abandon Imagination” includes a few pieces that are directly Rockwell-inspired, such as “Self Portrait (with Ted),” which references Rockwell’s “Self Portrait.” There's also plenty of fantastical illustrations of sprites, fairies and dragons. 

“I wanted to make a show that’s got some substance to it, but also is fun, that you can bring the kids and the families and they won’t be bored,” Kowalski said. There are creatures used in the “Spiderwick Chronicles” movie, as well as interactive pieces. 

The exhibition is the first of its kind for the Rockwell Museum, for DiTerlizzi and for the famous tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. 

Early in his career, DiTerlizzi illustrated many D&D creatures and characters, some of which are included in the show. It’s the first time artwork from the game is being exhibited in a fine art museum, according to Kowalski. 
“I was at once incredibly flattered but a little horrified because it’s the early work from the beginning of my career, so all I see are the ‘warts.’ I just see a young artist trying to figure out his style,” DiTerlizzi said. 

But through his D&D illustrations, one can see the DNA of his other works, which is part of why Kowalski wanted to exhibit them. 

“I learned through emulation, which is a very old tradition in art school. . . .  [Only] my masters were Norman Rockwell and Brian Froud or Arthur Rackham,” DiTerlizzi said. 

Pieces such as “A New Realm in Nature and Science Fiction Combined, You Are Exploring: GONDWANALAND,” reflect DiTerlizzi’s first illustrations. The piece is a notebook DiTerlizzi made when he was 12, which detailed the flora and fauna of a new world he created. 

“So often as a kid, and as an adult, if I go to an art exhibition, whether it’s the Met or a local museum, and I’m looking at walls of beautiful finished paintings by a master worthy of hanging in a museum, [I’m] a mixture of awe[d] and a bit overwhelmed,” DiTerlizzi said. 

For many kids who want to illustrate professionally, there’s no visible path from drawing in their notebooks or sketching in school to having a successful career, said DiTerlizzi. The exhibition gives a glimpse into that path through a few interactive pieces that take viewers through DiTerlizzi’s influences and how they transferred into his own work.  

“I wanted to really demystify that by showing what I was drawing when I was 10,” DiTerlizzi said. 

 “Never Abandon Imagination” will be up through May 28. 

What’s in a name?
“Never Abandon Imagination” is the title of the exhibition, but it’s also become DiTerlizzi’s motto. 
He wrote the line early on in his career when he was first attempting to write poetry (not his ultimate literary niche). It’s inscribed in the opening page of his first children’s book, “Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World Moon Pie Adventure,” which was published five years after he wrote the line: “With magic as your captain you can choose just about any destination, any time, or any place if you never abandon imagination.” 

Opening weekend events
Conversation with Tony DiTerlizzi
WHEN: 4:30-5:30 p.m. Nov. 11
TICKETS: $10 for museum members, $25 for nonmembers

Exhibition opening and remarks
WHEN: 6-8 p.m. Nov. 11
NOTE: Fantastical dress encouraged

An Afternoon with Tony DiTerlizzi
WHEN: 1 p.m. Nov. 12
TICKETS: Free with admission

MORE INFO: nrm.org

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