Memorabilia memories: Painting of Mr. Padre is ‘priceless’ in mind of longtime Padres/Aztecs fan
Editor’s note: The Union-Tribune presents another part of an occasional series of memorabilia collected from readers.
Flea markets are supposed to be about cleaning up clutter and making a few dollars in the process.
But as Craig Nelson says, sometimes it’s just “so we can swap things in my closet for things from your closet”.
This is exactly how it worked for Nelson some 35 years ago when he was holding a flea market in the house he then owned in San Carlos. And it was at that point that Nelson owned one of his most prized possessions – an oil painting by Tony Gwynn.
“I had a fairly large supply of memorabilia, including game uniforms, bats, and several hundred thousand baseball cards,” said Nelson. “A neighbor leafed through the old lamps and various trash and said, ‘I see you’re a collector – would you be interested in a Tony Gwynn painting? ‘”
Nelson, who graduated from San Diego State with a degree in finance in 1984, became an avid Gwynn fan when he saw him play basketball and baseball at SDSU. Nelson also got to know Gwynn quite well through Nelson’s constant collaboration with the university’s alumni and booster groups.
Everything Gwynn and Nelson were.
Nelson’s collection of sports memorabilia spilled into the garage at the time, which gave one of his neighbors, a man Nelson didn’t even know, the idea that he might be interested in the painting.
“I was absolutely interested,” said Nelson.
“I see you have a used vacuum cleaner,” said the neighbor. “Would you act?”
“I said, ‘Done,'” Nelson replied, not seeing the artwork before completing the trade.
“I don’t think he was a fan,” said Nelson. “Apparently this painting was stuffed in a closet somewhere in her house.
“He was probably just thinking, ‘This thing is just in my closet. I don’t get any of it. This guy would probably enjoy it a lot more than me. ‘”
Nelson added, “I don’t know how they got it. You might have bought it at a charity auction or something, but I don’t remember exactly. “
Nelson was immediately impressed by the artwork.
“The painting is pretty colorful,” said Nelson, who now lives in Solana Beach. “Take off all identification marks (Padres logos) there and you still know straight away that it’s Tony. It’s just a classic that he hits the ball and runs out of the racket’s box. “
The piece measures almost 3 feet by 4 feet. Nelson posted it on a wall in his home next to a Gwynn SDSU baseball jersey.
With a little research, Nelson found that the painting was painted in 1985, four years after Gwynn’s 20-year career with the Padres.
At this point, Gwynn had accumulated only 559 of his 3,141 hits and earned only one of his eight National League titles (for beating .351 in 1984).
The painting is signed by both Gwynn and the artist Gene Locklear.
“It wasn’t until later that I did some research and figured out who it was and its full history,” Nelson said of Locklear. “It was like, ‘Wow, that’s even cooler.’ ”
Locklear is a former outfielder whose five-year major league career spanned four seasons (1973-76) with the Padres. Locklear, a thoroughbred member of the Lumbee Indian Nation, is one of about two dozen Native Americans who reach the majors.
For his artwork, which has been displayed in the White House and Pentagon, and for several sports venues around the country, he prefers sports and Indian themes.
Locklear was commissioned by golfers Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, among others, along with former Padres pitchers and Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Trevor Hoffman.
His work has sold for up to $ 30,000, according to Locklear’s website.
Nelson calls his piece “priceless to me”.
“I told Tony I had the picture, but I never told him I got it for a used vacuum cleaner,” said Nelson. “I was afraid he might be offended.
“I wish I could tell him this story (now) because I know he wouldn’t be offended. … No, he would laugh for Tony Gwynn to laugh, that infectious, unmistakable cackle. I miss it but I can still hear it clearly as a day. “