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Baseball art as vibrant, popular as ever

Baseball art as vibrant, popular as ever

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About 10 years ago, Chris Cornell had an idea.

As a life-long baseball fan and lover of art, he wanted to find a way to combine his two interests. So, he registered the baseballart.com domain name, hoping someday he could use it to "build a community of baseball artists and baseball art fans." Earlier this year, finally, the site, and an accompanying Facebook page, became a reality.

Apparently, his timing, like that of Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden, was perfect.

"The reaction to both sites has been tremendous," said Cornell, a native of Westchester County in suburban New York. "With virtually no fanfare, the Facebook site includes former Major League players, the son of a Hall of Famer, dozens of accomplished artists and hundreds of people who simply have an enthusiasm for baseball-themed art."

In less than a year, these sites have become portals for artists announcing upcoming shows and newly commissioned work, looking to network, or trying to connect with prospective buyers.

Baseball art is all around us. From images on trading cards, statues of hometown heroes welcoming fans into stadiums, the huge mitt above the left-field stands at AT&T Park in San Francisco, to abstract figures made out of neon lights that once glowed on the outside walls of Shea Stadium, its rich tradition reaches back as far as the invention of the game itself.

What's fascinating is that, as art has changed, grown and evolved over the past hundred-plus years, each subsequent generation of artists has created its own unique vision of baseball.

Courier & Ives' hand-colored lithographic prints in the 1800s documented and introduced the sport of baseball to the public. Interpreting the national pastime continued with drawings of players on the very first baseball cards, through Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers, to the many talented artists working today, like Dave Choate, Roger Patrick and Will Johnson.

Charles Fazzino, whose work is full of energy, color and excitement, is one of the most successful contemporary baseball-themed artists. An innovator in 3-D pop art, Fazzino uses common elements of the game -- actual batting helmets, baseballs, bats, home plates -- that he paints and adorns with additional art. You've never seen a batting helmet if you haven't seen one that's spent time with this graduate from New York's School of Visual Arts.

But it's Fazzino's 3-D recreations of detailed works of stadiums that he might be better known for. Warning: You'll want to buy one of these, but you'd better have deep pockets. It's not uncommon for one of Fazzino's pieces to go for $2,000 to $3,000.

"Baseball is a wonderful artistic subject for me because going to a game is full of sights, sounds, and smells," Fazzino said. "People go to baseball games to enjoy the fresh air, eat the hot dogs, cheer on their team, and remember what it was like to be baseball fans as kids.

"It's a very nostalgic experience. I don't paint player portraits. I paint the experience of being a baseball fan."

Artist Graig Kreindler couldn't have a more different approach. Many of his oil paintings are portraits, depicting scenes from the 1940s-'60s, "an era when players were accessibly human, and the atmosphere of a cozy ballpark was just as important as what happened on the field," he said.

Be it Mickey Mantle waiting in the on-deck circle, glowing in the sun, or the bustling pregame crowd outside of Wrigley Field, his work suggests a quiet solemnity reminiscent of the color home movies from HBO's "When It Was A Game" series. Even his website is modeled after an old-fashioned newspaper from the 1940s.

"Even now when I am working on a painting, I'm able to bring myself back to my father's days, or even his own father [a Giants fan] seeing Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott at the Polo Grounds in the 1930s," he said. "I almost feel like my father is behind me, watching me work, and reliving his own childhood. And I like to think that my grandparents are somehow doing the same."

Whereas Fazzino credits the influence of artists Keith Haring and Red Grooms ("I loved the way that he could take a whimsical, playful, seemingly shallow subject and turn it into a beautiful, thought-provoking and powerful artwork," he said of Grooms), Kreindler notes the more traditional influence of artists such as John Singer Sargent, N.C. Wyeth and illustrator Frank Schoonover.

These days, while the tools of the trade most often remain oils, acrylics and watercolors, the rise of digital media and the web over the past decade has had a tremendous impact: Photoshop and the Internet are the new kids in town.

Kreindler added: "With the Internet, artists are able to find reference for their works in a split second."

Statistical and historical information, details about uniforms and personal information are now readily available, making it easier for today's artists to easily research their topics.

Is there an increase in the demand for baseball art?

"I think baseball art is as popular as it's always been," Fazzino said. "I don't know that the Internet or technology has contributed to the popularity of sports art, but it's certainly influenced how it's created. There's a lot of digital art out there now. Some of it is good, some OK, and some just awful. But there are also a lot of talented artists who are able to get their work out there because of the technology."

"Throughout my career," Fazzino added, "I have found that my baseball art always touches people. They look at my paintings and they remember ... their childhood ... their friends ... their family."

Barry Wittenstein is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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