Strokes of Fortune

The dad of a major leaguer is well-known for his striking portraits
June 19, 2005

VERNON WELLS JR. is the father of Blue Jays Gold Glove centerfielder Vernon Wells III, but many big leaguers know him better as their artist of choice. Wells Jr. (below) has done hundreds of commissioned portraits of major leaguers and scores more for athletes such as Terry Bradshaw and Emmitt Smith. "A lot of people ask for his phone number," says Wells III (above). "I'm the middleman." Wells Jr., who works at his Arlington, Texas, studio, sells his portraits for between $6,000 and $20,000, depending on their size and complexity. Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter has commissioned three, including the one shown here of Hunter's acrobatic catch in the 2002 All-Star Game. Says Hunter, "Now I can show my grandkids that I took a home run away from Barry Bonds. When he took the cover off the portrait and I saw the Spiderman on my chest, I thought, Wow!"

Wells Jr., 50, says, "What I know of art is purely what I have learned on my own." He began painting seriously at the end of his own athletic career. A receiver out of TCU, he caught on with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders, but a shoulder injury forced him to quit before his first game in 1978. Teammates who'd seen the sketches he did as a hobby asked him to paint their portraits, and he was hired to do the Stampeders media guide. He later worked for Upper Deck, painting trading cards. Now he keeps to his commissions, doing about 20 portraits a year. He's done several of his son, but although Wells III grew up watching his dad paint, don't expect him to take up a brush. "I didn't really have the skills to even attempt it," he says. "I was even bad with stick figures." --Sarah Thurmond