Remembering Mort Schindel
Stepping into the colorful book mobile parked in front of the main steps of Teachers College, I stumble across Clifford, of all creatures. Big, red, and furry, for real. Bigger, in fact, than the person whom I really came to see — Mr. Morton Schindel, distinguished alumnus (M.A, audiovisual education, 1946) and founder of Weston Woods, a company known to schools and libraries throughout the world for adapting award winning and notable picture books to film. Founder’s Day at Teachers College afforded me the honor of meeting Mr. Schindel — and thanking him in person for the resources he donated to the library in recognition of our efforts to develop a model K-12 teaching collection. I recall a humble, twinkly-eyed man sporting a sweater, and one who was easily a couple of heads shorter than Clifford. Delighting in an eager audience, he reminisced about Prague, “City of 100 Spires” — a haven for hundreds of artists, including his close American colleague Gene Deitch, leading animation director. I began to dream of the historical Bohemian capital — its Gothic churches, cobbled streets, colorful Baroque buildings, red tiled rooftops. I could well imagine its perfect setting for informal and unconventional art based on beautiful writing for children.
As his visionary work was translated into more than 20 languages, so was Schindel a teacher who inspired for millions a love of reading. In the mobile, he gently explained “iconography”, a technique he created: the camera pans and zooms over still illustrations and, when possible, the original works, for the “illusion of movement”– a process used widely now by film makers. Weston Woods, named after the leafy home of the Weston, Connecticut production studios, made more than 300 films and 450 recordings — many of which drew on the talents of Czech artists. His company became part of Scholastic in the late 1990’s, which explained the faithful presence of Clifford — with Weston Woods all the while remaining faithful to the art of illustration.
Certainly a friend to librarians, Mr. Schindel years later donated an art collection of animation cels that are now part of the Gottesman Libraries’ Historical Art Collections. Schindel’s cels were used in the creation of the Weston Woods‘ films Here Comes The Cat!, Smile for Auntie, Red Riding Hood, Strega Nona, Dr. De Soto (Oscar nominated), Wings: The Tale of Two Chickens, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Goldilocks and Patrick.
On August 20, 2016, Mort Schindel peacefully passed away at the age of 98. I’m happy to say, Mort, that I made it to Prague — I was sent over to set up book exchange programs with libraries (to promote literacy and learning) — and I still enjoy watching classic children’s books — on your silver screen. Often symbolizing order, strength, wealth, and prestige, the spire calls us to remember you, who commissioned a new form of art and left a lovely legacy.
Morton Schindel. Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.
“Fish Rescue Mouse“, by Vladimir Vagan and Fran Asch, Weston Woods Studio. Courtesy of Teachers College, Columbia University.
“Sylvester Dancing with Magic Pebble“, by William Steig, Weston Woods Studio. Courtesy of Teachers College, Columbia University.