Stanley Chow Brings the History of Carnegie Hall to Life
The legacy of Andrew Carnegie reaches back more than a century. The steel tycoon changed the way industry was shaped during the industrial revolution, creating a totally different America. His career was marked with the turbulence that comes with vast industry and corporation, so he balanced that with giving back to his community with an incredible array of cultural projects not least of which was Carnegie Hall. Currently celebrating its 125th year, Carnegie Hall has begun a new tradition: The Carnegie Hall Digital Hall of Fame. They picked 12 figures from the history of the Hall who have influenced music and the Hall’s history and should be held up for the contributions they have made, and asked illustrator Stanley Chow to create a gallery of portraits of their picks. Names include Andrew Carnegie himself, Tchaikovsky, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington, alongside names you may not recognize like William Burnet Tuthill.
The long heritage that includes all these names came into play for Stanley who had to create the portraits. With hundreds of years of history, making accurate imagery that reflects these real people is a challenge. “There are references but some of them are photographs that are two hundred years old, and the quality was bad,” explains Stanley. “Nowadays I usually work from hundreds of images of the same person, and composite them all together in my head. Here, I kind of had to work from less reference, which was a lot harder.” That means that he’s literally negotiating the leavings of history and creating something out of the detritus of time. It can be a grey area that has to be tiptoed around, and brings a special challenge to Stanley’s work. Tuthill’s portrait was particularly tricky since there was only one image to work off of and a rumor, “Apparently he looks like Teddy Roosevelt. So we kind of made him look like Teddy Roosevelt,” Stanley explains.
The sheer volume of portraits that Stanley Chow does on a consistent basis is almost mind bending. He’s constantly taking faces and turning them into works of art, all within his own immediately recognizable style. He’s done it hundreds, if not thousands, of times and each one is as fresh as the first. For Stanley, each face its own challenge and that’s what keeps him going. “Everyone’s different, it’s as simple as that,” says Stanley. “Everyone’s a challenge. That keeps my interest up. If I have to keep doing the same person all the time that’s when I’ll lose interest, really. But when I’m doing different people all the time I’ll never have that lack of interest.” It doesn’t matter if they’re a topic of current cultural conversation, like Donald Trump, or a man whose likeness is almost lost to history, like William Burnet Tuthill, Stanley’s pen is ready for whatever face comes his way.