Sam Norkin, American (1917 - )

Sam Norkin was born in Brooklyn in 1917 and, as a teenager, studied with muralist Mordi Gassner. After high school, he was awarded a scholarship to the Metropolitan Art School and later studied at Cooper Union and the School of Fine and Industrial Art. From 1940 to 1956, his stage illustrations were seen in the New York Herald Tribune. Then for the following 26 years, he covered the performing arts for the New York Daily News.

His portraits frequently appeared on the covers of the Saturday Review and Harper’s magazines. For several decades, his drawings were also featured in the Sunday drama sections of such newspapers as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and Toronto Star in advance of the openings in cities where Broadway shows went for out-of-town tryouts. Norkin has also served as an art critic for the Carnegie Hall house program and a cultural reporter for the Daily News. He sees the art of caricature as giving inflection to the artist’s concerns for likeness and proportion. He has been influenced by the Cubists, “who found design and geometry in facial anatomy.”

From his first teacher he learned dynamic symmetry, a compositional principle developed in ancient Greece that places the point of interest at a given spot on a rectangle from which other forms evolve. This has served to make Norkin conscious of the composition of his drawings through the architecture of space. Norkin received a Drama Desk Award in 1995 for his body of work, has been honored by the League of New York Theaters and Producers for his “outstanding contributions as a theatrical artist,” and received awards in 1980 and 1984 from the National Cartoonists Society. 

The deft brush strokes of Sam Norkin have evoked the stages and illuminated the major players in New York’s performing arts scene for the past 62 years. The more than 200 drawings in Theater.Ink: The Art of Sam Norkin at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts attest to the richness and variety of New York’s cultural history and Norkin’s perception and skill at bringing its performers to life. His work has taken him to Central Park for music festivals, the Metropolitan Opera House for the opening of every new production, the legit houses of Broadway and Off-Broadway for theater openings, Carnegie Hall for the recitals of the premier contemporary classical artists, and Madison Square Garden for the circus.

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