#Shortstops: Art of the Card

Written by: Bill Francis

Individual baseball cards are original in their own unique way, but imagine thousands of today’s small, rectangular pieces of cardboard cut and placed just so in order to transform them into a wholly original piece of art.

Such was the case for one of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s most recent donations, an artifact specifically solicited from the artist this year in order to help tell the story in the upcoming Shoebox Treasures exhibit dedicated to the story of baseball cards.

The work in question, “1955 Topps Sandy Koufax,” was created by Tim Carroll in 2018. On a 28-inch by 20-inch canvas, the South Carolina-based artist recreated a collaged image of the Hall of Fame southpaw, Class of 1972, based on the iconic baseball card.

“While planning out the Shoebox Treasures exhibit, we decided to have a wall displaying a variety of art that has been inspired by and/or created from baseball cards,” said Hall of Fame Assistant Curator Gabrielle Augustine, who was tasked with approaching Carroll for the artwork. “In doing research for this wall, the team came across Tim’s work and we all thought it was fantastic and the medium so unique. We specifically asked for the Koufax piece because it’s based on a fairly well-known baseball card and a favorite in the curatorial department.

“Besides the fact that it’s really cool and that I think our visitors will love it, this piece shows that baseball cards have transcended beyond the card collecting world – which is probably what a lot of people think of when they talk about baseball cards. It shows that baseball cards can be both the medium and the inspiration behind amazing art.”

To say Carroll was overwhelmed by being asked to donate a piece of his artwork to the Hall of Fame would be an understatement.

“It sounds cliché, but it truly is a dream come true,” wrote Carroll in an email. “I've been a diehard baseball fan since I was little, but I knew early on I didn't have the talent to stick around the game as a player. Having my work included in the Hall is the pinnacle.

“Many friends have mentioned all of the player/team memorabilia in the Hall, but the artist part of me is also humbled knowing the Koufax piece will reside in the same institution that owns work from (Norman) Rockwell, (Alexander) Calder, (Andy) Warhol, etc. As a baseball-loving artist, it just doesn't get any better.”

According to Carroll, his process in creating these singular pieces of art is rather straightforward.

“After the underdrawing is complete, the cards are gathered and sorted based on the colors,” he wrote. “It's then cut and glue until the image comes together.”

Asked for his memories of “1955 Topps Sandy Koufax,” the 40-year-old artist wrote of how a weather emergency proved the impetus for its completion.

“The 1955 Topps Koufax has always been one of my favorite cards because of the vibrant color and the subject,” he wrote. “I started this particular piece several months before it was completed. It was put on the backburner to get to commissions, but then the calendar flipped to September 2018.

“I live in Conway, S.C., which is just outside of Myrtle Beach. In early September '18, I sent my family inland to visit relatives in preparation of Hurricane Florence. Tremendous flooding hit the entire area after landfall, making it impossible for my family to get back home immediately after the storm. The extra time allowed me to get back ahead of schedule, and I spent 12-16 hour days working on the Koufax until it was finished. I would estimate 120-130 hours of work went into the piece (many of them while the wind was howling!), and approximately 1,800-2,000 commons were destroyed to make it happen.”

After stating that donating the Koufax baseball card collage to the Museum “was the easiest and quickest decision I have ever made concerning the art,” Carroll admitted committing to his current brand of artistic expression – with an origin story dating back 10 years - took some convincing.

“My wife was finishing her doctorate and I was presenting at a science conference in New Orleans back in March 2009,” he wrote. “We were checking out all of the unique art galleries within the French Quarter – everything from bodypainting to abstract oil paintings – when it started to rain. We stopped at a convenience store on the way back to the hotel and I picked up a magazine that mentioned the T206 Honus Wagner. I jokingly mentioned to my wife that I needed to trade the common cards in my closet for a single million dollar Wagner.

“Having seen all the artwork earlier, the wheels began to turn. When we returned home a few days later, I pulled those cards out and began to cut. A crude Honus Wagner concept piece was made and I shared it online. Instead of getting the laugh I thought I was going to get (making the ‘trade’ of the commons for a Honus), I had collectors asking me to do other cards for them. What started as a joke turned into a vacation-funding hobby. Seven years later, I left a career as an educator to cut baseball cards for a living. That decision took much longer than the Koufax-to-the-Hall decision.”

Carroll’s works of art – which can be seen on his website, timcarrollart.com – run the gamut of great players on great cards, including 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. and 2018 Bowman Chrome Superfractor Shohei Ohtani. Carroll added most of his pieces are “sold in the $3-$5K range, but recent commissions move comfortably past the five figure mark.”

Carroll’s “1955 Topps Sandy Koufax” artwork can be seen beginning on Saturday, May 25, as part of the Shoebox Treasures baseball card exhibit.

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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