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Picture-perfect experience at FanFest

Picture-perfect experience at FanFest

ST. LOUIS -- In a side hallway away from the games, contests and buzz of the main room of the Major League Baseball FanFest at America's Center on Friday, artist Malcolm Farley puts the finishing touches on his portrait of Roberto Clemente. He's already finished one of Cal Ripken, which now hangs for sale alongside ones of Albert Pujols, Stan Musial and many others.

He hands his paint brush to a young fan watching his work to help work a little on Clemente's arm. Farley gladly takes a moment to rest his own arm, knowing that his next project will be a special one for the onlookers in St. Louis -- a portrait of Joe Torre playing for the Cardinals.

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Farley, named the official artist of Major League Baseball in 2003, travels across the country to events such as FanFest to both sell his paintings and give fans the chance to watch him at work.

"These live performances are a lot of fun because you get the fan interactions, and you actually learn a lot, too," Farley said. "It's fun having the fans come up to you and tell you a story about their favorite player or a memory that they have. It's fun to hear those."

Farley painted the 40 most memorable moments for MasterCard in 2003, and he is currently working on a coffee table book that will show the history of baseball through pictures. He has painted the World Series live from the bullpen and has done the official World Series posters for Major League Baseball.

His work is so impressive that several players have called and ordered portraits and paintings for themselves.

"It's something special for them," Farley said. "A lot of them have a closet full of trophies, but I think this is a unique way to honor their achievements. The players all love them."

Twenty yards away at another booth selling sports artwork, collector Dana Alan Yarger tells a similar story about a painting he sells of Pujols. A few years ago, he says, Roger Clemens purchased 17 paintings from his company, Art of the Stars, to put on the walls of his foundation in Texas.

Clemens purchased a painting done by Stephen Holland of Pujols, but had the photo shipped to St. Louis for Pujols to sign when he found out the painting wasn't autographed. The photo was brought into the clubhouse and as soon as Pujols saw it, he called his agent and ordered one for himself.

"Art really takes people back," Yarger said. "It's not a dormant thing on the wall. It's a piece of your life and how you look at things. Especially when you look at art through the eyes of the artist."

One of Yarger's most treasured paintings for sale at his booth is one of Babe Ruth by legendary sports artist Opie Otterstad. The painting is based on the famous photograph of "The Babe" surrounded by a large group of kids, but Otterstad added a twist.

"Instead of painting all of the kids' faces, he put faces of Hall of Famers when they were young," Yarger said. "Stan Musial, Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson -- it took him seven years of research to do this painting. People, especially these old-time card collectors that know the cards from the 50's or 60's, they walk up and recognize these guys in a second."

Most of Yarger's paintings sell for anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, but both the Pujols and Ruth paintings sell for less than $2,000. He also sells paintings of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, the Boston Red Sox and many more.

But while his artwork is impressive and features meaningful stories behind them, fans don't get the opportunity to actually help paint them as they do in front of Farley's "Play Ball 2009" exhibit. It makes not only for a memorable experience for the fans, but for Farley as well.

"They come up and I'll hand them the brush, and it's an interactive kind of thing," Farley said. "They love it, and so do I."

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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