Sunday, January 29, 2017

Craig Pursley on baseball cards

Artist Craig Pursley has been painting and illustrating for over 40 years. His work can be seen in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, The Nolan Ryan Museum, and The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. His work includes the 1990 Bowman Art Insert set. He kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"I loved the early 50s Bowman cards where each one was painted (apparently by at least 5 different artists all trained in the same style). So when I was working for the California Angels as an illustrator I began doing paintings of current (then, in the late 80s) American League players. Then when their teams came to town, I would get them to sign the painting. I had one for each American League team with players like Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly and Nolan Ryan. At some point, it occurred to me that maybe the current Bowman company might be interested in having these as insert cards so I contacted them and sent examples of my work. They responded that they would like to have 11 of them for their next set and determined to have the previous year’s Cy Young winners, Rookies of the Year and MVPs plus 5 other stars they chose. I was happy to do them and even more so when they decided to make it a sweepstakes with very nice prints as prizes. These prints were also offered to card stores as Hobby Samples and these still turn up of Ebay often. The prints were extremely high quality and they flew me to Connecticut to sign 500 in a limited edition plus 500 more as Hobby Samples. A whole set of them would be worth $440 according to the back of the insert cards but I don’t know how they arrived at that odd number and I don’t think many ever paid that for them. It did give me a national platform though and I was able to trade the prints that I was given for baseball memorabilia that I collected, for example old stadium seats or antique equipment. Most of that is all gone now but it was a good time in my life.
My favorite card of that set is the Robin Yount card as I felt it was the best done. My favorite card all time is the Stan Musial Bowman 1952 card. I loved “The Man” and the card was beautifully done.
I no longer collect cards. I did as a kid wanting a Mickey Mantle card every time I opened a pack. When I got back into baseball in the late 80s – early 90s, I did buy or trade for a few more but they were always older cards and I wasn’t so concerned with condition or value; they were just cards or players that I liked. The card that I am most proud to have is a 1929 (?) Jimmie Reese card when he was in the PCL with the Oakland Oaks I think. He was best known as Babe Ruth’s roommate with the Yankees in the early 20s and had great stories to tell. I got to know him a bit when he was in his 90s and STILL a coach for the Angels! He was an amazing guy and a very kind gentleman. The first time I met him I asked if there was ever a card made of him in his playing days and he told me a couple were made (I don’t remember by whom) in his minor league days. Anyway, shortly afterwards I received the pair in the mail. He had taken them off some display he had at home and sent them to me! They are in poor condition but they are valuable to me."

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