Wonka Artist Is Local

Joseph Schindelman
Joseph Schindelman

It’s the 50th anniversary of the publication of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this year, and the 1964 classic children’s book illustrator, East Williston resident Joseph Schindelman, can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t drawing.

“I always loved drawing, even when I was very young,” said the 90-year-old Schindelman. At age 5, he said he copied the caricatures in political cartoons from newspapers.

He was already an accomplished commercial illustrator with two decades of experience in New York City advertising agencies when he received the commission to do the drawings for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was an art director when he was offered the project, and said he immediately embraced the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book.

A friend who was a freelance illustrator recommended him for the project in 1964 and he had a brief meeting with the book’s author, Roald Dahl, before he started work on it. “He was a very nice man, very tall man,” Schindelman recalls.

They talked about politics and Schindelman said Dahl offered “no recommendations” on how the artist should execute the illustrations.
As he worked from the manuscript, he sketched in the margins and consciously had in mind a particular style of pen and ink drawings that remained vivid in his memory.

“I always liked the drawings for Dickens books and I tried to get some of that flavor in the drawings,” he said.

He used his son, Michael, as the model for Charlie, the book’s young hero, and his children watched as he brought the book’s sweets factory and its characters to life.

“They’re charming books,” he said of the book and its sequel, Charlie and the Glass Elevator.

Joseph Schindelman’s rendering of  Willy Wonka
Joseph Schindelman’s rendering of
Willy Wonka

Schindelman said he “never really heard” whether Dahl was pleased with his work on the illustrations. “I guess he accepted it,” he said.
Schindelman composed new jackets for both books and a cover for a box set released by Random House after Dahl died years ago. Random House released special editions with the original illustrations this year for the 50th anniversary.

The Dahl books set his career in a new direction and he subsequently illustrated other children’s books, including John Raymond’s The Marvelous March of Jean Francois.

Schindelman grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan. His formal art training began in Christopher Columbus High School, where he studied art for one period daily and continued working on it after the school day ended. “I would stay after school,” he recalled.

He worked in a variety of forms, including painting, etching, woodcuts and lithography. He also took some Works Progress Administration art classes as well as instruction at the Art Students League in Manhattan.

His sights were set on becoming a painter by the time he entered college. Then during his freshman year at the City College of New York in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force.

Based outside of Lotoglia, Italy during World War II, Schindelman flew 51 missions as the nose gunner in a B-24 bomber.

“It was very surreal. You felt suspended,” he said.

He experienced “a number of close calls,” including what he described as “absolutely insane” in which the bomber was exposed to flack along the entire overland route.

Charlie smelling the delicious candy
Charlie smelling the delicious candy

Schindelman kept exercising his artistic skills while in the service, painting a likeness of popular pin-up girl Betty Grable from a photo of the movie star on the nose of the B-24, which the crew dubbed “Our Baby.” He also drew sketches of his comrades in the base’s barracks between missions.

He kickstarted a career in commercial art when he returned to New York after the service, working at CBS for 19 years after being hired by a former teacher he studied with at City College.

Schindelman maintains a studio in his East Williston house since moving there in 1968 with his wife, Ida and their children, and continues painting and creating sculptures today in a variety of styles on different subjects.

“I was influenced by everything,” he said . “My tastes are very broad when it comes to art.”

He said he sometimes looks at painting as a kind of chess game, in which every artistic move affects every other element in it.

One of his compositions shows an American flag in a twisted form. He said he normally doesn’t give his paintings titles, but his flag rendering is called “State of the Nation.”

“That’s the way I feel about what’s been happening with Congress. It’s truly un-American, so heavily biased against the poor and the unemployed, I can’t believe it,” Schindelman said.

He’s never stopped working at developing his skills further, taking sculpture and painting classes at Queensborough College this year to further hone his skills. “There’s always more to learn,” he said.

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