When Richard Gangel signed on 21 years ago as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S art director (after spending 13 years elsewhere in the company, eight of them as art director for Time Inc. promotions and the last two as an assistant art director at LIFE), he was anxious to find out if "the world of sport would yield some fascinating images." Well, with a creative hand, discerning eye and unconventional mind, Gangel has been the one most responsible for the way SI looks each week. May we suggest that he indeed proved that sport does yield fascinating images.
"I always felt that we should create our own look," Gangel says. "One not only tough and vigorous but sensitive, and understanding of humans in athletic endeavors." The numerous awards, medals and medallions won, for his own works and those he commissioned—about which Gangel cares not a whit—attest to his success.
But last week, Gangel, 63, retired, turning over the helm to his longtime assistant, Harvey Grut. "Sport isn't the place for old fuddy-duddies," he says. "It's awful to see an aging champ hanging on beyond his time." Actually, Gangel looks 45, plays tennis as if he were 30 and has the gloriously inquisitive mind of a 5-year-old; he simply chose to say goodby in order to address himself to his personal creative pursuits, which include bookbinding, limited editions graphics and painting. "This is my last shot to find out what's in my own soul to paint," he says.
He will do it in the gentle countryside of Weston, Conn., where he owns a house and converted barn he bought 22 years ago from Amy Vanderbilt. Upstairs in the barn in which Miss Vanderbilt wrote tomes on etiquette, Gangel paints with acrylic lacquers on aluminum. Downstairs, his wife, Karen, designs women's clothes.
Gangel's feeling about SI was always that we were good but we could be better. To this end, he exercised extraordinary care with layouts and our headline and body type. "We want continually to freshen up, not break away," he would say. "We don't want to leave the reader baffled." You will be seeing the last of these freshenings in the near future. Gangel gave assignments to the best and brightest illustrators and painters, known and unknown. "He was absolutely a genius," says illustrator Walt Spitzmiller. "He'd throw ideas out and watch them work." Or sometimes not. Says Gangel, "I always found a friendly acceptance of visual experiments, but I sometimes wonder about the graphic crimes I did commit." Gangel has also been in the forefront of the pioneering of high-speed offset lithography and electronic transmission of images over long distances, crucial matters to our fast-closing magazine.
Recently, he was asked to design four U.S. postage stamps, of Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones and Babe Zaharias, the last two to be unveiled Sept. 22 at the Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, N.C. "I started out too fancy," he says, "and ended with a simple documentation." These will be the first ever of individual athletes.
But what does Gangel remember most of his SI days? "That people worked like hell and gave me their best," he says. What do we remember of Dick's SI days? That he worked like hell and gave us his best.