#Shortstops: Striking Mathewson
There were few players with more star power during their careers than pitcher Christy Mathewson.
Mathewson, a right-handed pitcher mostly for the New York Giants, won 373 games over a 17-year career. While dominating on the mound throughout the early 1900s, Mathewson was a quiet man, described by Eddie Frierson as having “lifted the rowdy world of baseball to gentlemanliness.”
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The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has many artifacts in its collection relating to Mathewson, including baseballs, a glove, uniform sleeves, a scrapbook, numerous photographs and slides, a bust, and – a personal favorite – an upright player piano from his days in a tuberculosis hospital in Saranac Lake, N.Y. While all of these items are impressive, none is quite like the recently accessioned portrait painting of Mathewson by artist Joel Libby.
This Christy Mathewson painting is both similar to and different from its subject: Eye-catching and impressive, but also loud and expressive. Measuring 40 x 50 inches, the painting is currently on display in the Frank and Peggy Steele Art Gallery and greets Museum visitors as they enter the Gallery to view the Art of Baseball exhibit on the first floor.
The painting is on canvas and created with acrylic paint. It is an up-close portrait of Mathewson, showing no team logos or insignias. Libby used charismatic color in place of the natural tones of Mathewson’s skin and hair, ranging from bright yellows to deep violets. The painting was based off a photograph from 1904 that may be accredited to the famed baseball photographer, Charles Conlon.
While the entire piece is striking, with lively color and chaotic brushstrokes, the viewer is almost immediately drawn to the sound stillness in Mathewson’s eyes as they meet their viewer with a confrontational gaze. There is an unmistakable intensity to them, most likely the same intensity that Mathewson brought to the mound.
Libby, having grown up in Central California helping with his family’s walnut orchard, was exposed to bright and vibrant colors, which are reflected in his paintings. He refers to his work as “painterly pop art,” referencing the genre of fine art that draws from popular culture and appeal, made notable by artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
The remarkable Mathewson painting was created in 2018 and donated to the collection in 2019. Much of Libby’s work focuses on portraits of well-known pop culture and historic icons, using his “bold and often times violent brushwork” to create stills of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Grace Kelly, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth and President Teddy Roosevelt, among many others.
Dani Dayton is a graphic designer at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Cassidy Lent is the manager of reference services at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum