‘Dungeons and Dragons’ illustrator is coming to the Mint Museum
Do you remember a time when your imagination was as real as the world around you? When invisible friends, superheroes and book characters felt alive?
Award-winning illustrator and author Tony DiTerlizzi wants you to remember and embrace that imagination.
An exhibition of his work, “Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi,” opens June 22 at Mint Museum Randolph. It’s the first-ever illustration exhibit at the Mint and features more than 150 of DiTerlizzi’s original illustrations published in books and fantasy table-top role playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons.
DiTerlizzi is especially known for his compelling characters. His popular children’s books include “The Spider & The Fly,” a Caldecott Honor book, as well as “Kenny and the Dragon, the WondLa trilogy” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” Spiderwick, a middle-grade series he co-wrote with Holly Black, has sold more than 20 million copies and was made into a feature film.
All of DiTerlizzi’s art is highly detailed, with portraits of characters who look like they could leap off the page and fictional environments that look just as real.
The interactive exhibition at the Mint focuses on his career and the worlds he has created.
Jonathan Stuhlman, the Mint’s senior curator of American, Modern & Contemporary Art, said the museum has been seriously interested in mounting an illustration exhibition since receiving positive responses to a 2017 exhibit of drawings, “The Wyeths: Three Generations”.
The DiTerlizzi exhibition was originally organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
Stuhlman was especially interested in the ability of the Charlotte exhibition to connect with adults and children. The Mint also hopes a focus on a different media will draw in new audiences of all ages.
“(We) really want to cover all aspects of artistic creativity,” Stuhlman said. The “ties to literacy, other kinds of learning and reading are important to our mission as well,” he said.
Typically museum curators approach artists about exhibitions, but DiTerlizzi contacted the Rockwell Museum himself about showing his work.
“If there was a museum I could hang my art in it would be the Norman Rockwell Museum,” he said. “His artwork was such a huge inspiration.”
His 20-year retrospective at the Rockwell broke attendance records.
DiTerlizzi said his confidence comes from his youth; both parents encouraged imagination and creativity. He was always drawing, creating characters and bringing them to life with sound effects of his own making. He went on to attend The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida where he earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design.
After graduating, he submitted work to children’s book publishing companies, magazines and other groups. He was playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends and they suggested he submit his materials to the game producers.
Soon he was creating art for both Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering.
“I remember sitting at my mom’s kitchen table drawing the same monsters and wizards and hobbits that I had 10 years earlier when I was playing the game as a kid,” he said. “I remember that reverb, that echo, that moment, that coda when I sat down to draw one of the monsters for the monster manual.”
Soon, he moved to New York to be closer to the action and began bringing his original ideas to life.
Author and illustrator
DiTerlizzi is now a New York Times best-selling author with two decades of children’s book writing experience and has sold millions of books that have been translated into 30 languages. He lives in Massachusetts with his daughter and wife, and works out of his studio on their property.
He spends hours crafting worlds with both drawn illustration and words. His characters start as pencil drawings, and are sometimes drawn from live models. He adds ink and color, then uploads the image to a computer and gives it the full digital treatment (color enhancement, edits, context and full environment).
His studio is full of the vintage and retro paraphernalia he collects, in addition to the wall of books, magazines and comics that the Mint is reproducing.
Building the exhibit
The Mint has approached the design, layout and content of the exhibition with enthusiasm. Mint President and CEO Todd Herman said, “The Mint Museum design team has taken its cues from Tony’s fantastical world of characters and created an experience for visitors of all ages.”
Stuhlman worked with the Mint’s exhibition designer Hannah Crowell to bring these worlds to life.
Photographers went to DiTerlizzi’s Massachusetts studio to take detailed images of both his workspace and his bookshelf so the Mint could recreate it in Charlotte. (Images from this process can be seen on DiTerlizzi’s Instagram account (@DiTerlizzi).
A character from one of DiTerlizzi’s books, “Ted,” will serve as a tour guide of sorts. He’s a giant, pink, mischievous yet friendly figure who fortifies a connection between a son and his distant father, and museum visitors will see his likeness often.
Additional interactive elements will include a lounge area for reading DiTerlizzi’s catalogue and a spot where visitors can create their own art.
A goal of the Mint exhibition is to grow audiences. “We are going to do all we can to make it engaging and fun here in the galleries, but it also allows us to connect art with so many other things that seem hard to pass up,” Stuhlman said.
He worked with multiple institutions to build programming that would connect the Mint to the types of people DiTerlizzi’s work appeals to, especially the reading and gaming communities.
In interviews Stuhlman and DiTerlizzi alluded to the renewed popularity of the RPG games, for which DiTerlizzi illustrated early in his career, including Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering.
Stuhlman suggested the resurgence is because the first generation of RPG players now have children old enough to enjoy the games.
The Mint will host a few adult-only Dungeons & Dragons nights during the run of the exhibition.
The museum plans to have a presence at HeroesCon, an annual event hosting over 40,000 fans of comic books and fantasy worlds and illustration. The convention is June 14-16 at the Charlotte Convention Center.
The museum organized partnerships with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Freedom School Partners, as well. Students in Freedom School ‘s summer program will visit the exhibition and members of the museum staff will go to different Freedom School locations to read with the students.
During the exhibition, the museum will present a selection of works by local illustrators in an adjacent gallery, which will celebrate the tremendous talent right here in the Charlotte region. Artists include Wolly McNair, Jon Cain, Matt Myers and Mirelys Colón.
A fitting title
When asked about the phrase “never abandon imagination,” DiTerlizzi explained, “As children we were encouraged to imagine all the time: imaginative play, imaginative thinking. We had to invent our own country and currency. It starts as young as imaginary friends.
“As you start getting older that imagination gets replaced with reality. Where are you going to college? What will you do for a job? And when you get out of college it’s errands, bills, insurance. It’s easy to leave behind that sense of wonder that is so prevalent and encouraged when we are young.
“We have all imagined flying cars, we have tried to imagine a peaceful world. To hold on tight to that ideal is important,” he said. “We hold on to reality but humans are so resourceful and capable of incredible things. And I think so much of that is fueled by imagination.”
Want to go?
What: “Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi”, June 22-Nov. 3.
Where: Mint Museum, Randolph at 2730 Randolph Road in Charlotte.
When: Exhibition opens June 22 with a discounted entrance fee of $10 for adults and a 1 p.m. artist talk. DiTerlizzi will sign books at 2 p.m.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.
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