CRAFTING NOSTALGIA: SEAN KANE AND HIS PAINTED GLOVES
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘So you’re basically in the Hall of Fame, then?,’ I inquire with equal parts wonderment and envy – my eyes as big as baseballs. It’s a question I never thought I’d be posing on such a gorgeous autumn morning. Or on any morning, for that matter. After all, it’s a rare day that you get to meet a Hall of Famer. ‘Well,’ Sean replies, ‘not me, per se. But without hesitation, I shoot back (sincerely): ‘Good enough for me.’
I’m hanging with Guelph-based illustrator and artist Sean Kane in his home studio – a brightly-lit space located in the basement of his cute Hospital Hill neighbourhood home. The place is cool – ‘mid-century modern’ cool. The living room chairs. Kitchen table. Heck, even the bungalow’s carport seems to hearken back to some brief golden age. An era of starched white shirts, brill cream, and unapologetic sentimentality. And Sean? He completes the aesthetic perfectly. His perfectly coifed hair. Strong chin. Thick- rimmed glasses. A sort of Clark Kent meets the cast of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type, I think to myself as we sit chatting about his work.
Which is why I’m here. To talk about Sean’s work. Magical objects that speak to a boy like me; that is, one who spent his formative years (on the one hand) touring the galleries and museums of Europe and (on the other) listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth call Jays’ games in the confines of his childhood bedroom. ‘I call them hand painted baseball glove art,’ Sean tells me when I ask how he describes the phenomenal objects on display in front of me, ‘that merge detailed painted portraits of a well-known ball player with graphical illustrations of his career stats and highlights.’
Fair enough. I’d describe them a bit differently, though.
For me, Sean’s painted gloves serve as shrines of nostalgia. Monstrances of reminiscence. Relics of wistfulness. Take, for instance, the glove Sean handcrafted as an homage to (in-)famous early twentieth-century White Sox star, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. Everything about this extraordinary artifact evokes a sense of remembrance – from the period- correct fielder’s mitt that serves as the piece’s canvas, to the black-and-white portrait of Jackson in mid- swing, to the vintage font Kane uses to spell out the hall of famer’s name on painted bygone scroll.
‘The research component comprises a large part of each piece,’ Sean notes when I ask about his creative process. ‘It’s important that each glove I source for a particular project is both period-correct and position- correct, and that it reflects whether the player is [or, in cases like Kane’s Jackson piece, was] right- or left-handed. I draw inspiration for each glove from any number of sources,’ he adds, ‘including ticket stubs, cigar boxes, movie posters and other historical ephemera.’ Sean concludes: ‘I want each finished item to function as a sort of time machine – to summon a particular time and place for its audience.’
Audiences that have included some pretty heavy hitters (pardon the pun). Like the Philadelphia Phillies’ former all-star, Ryan ‘The Big Piece’ Howard, who was given one of Sean’s gloves by the major league club in homage to his brilliant career. Or the Cubs’ hall of famer, Andre ‘The Hawk’ Dawson, who cherishes the glove Kane made for him. Or the Milwaukee Brewers’ Cecil Cooper, who displays the glove Sean crafted for him on his mantle – between his Roberto Clemente Award (awarded 1983) and two Gold Gloves (awarded 1979, 1980).
Sean and his gloves didn’t always enjoy such celebrity, though. Indeed, there was a time not so long ago that this former full-time editorial illustrator from Chicago wasn’t even sure he would be able to make a living as an artist. Indeed, during the financial meltdown in 2008 Sean watched as work dried up. ‘The crash affected everything,’ he tells me, ‘and so I had to look for something outside editorial illustration as a means to make a living.’ It was then that he turned to painting gloves – combining his love of baseball with his skills as an artist.
Sean remembers hustling his first prototypes to major league executives at the 2012 winter baseball meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. ‘I built a custom glass case,’ he recalls, ‘that I wore on my back throughout the meetings. Inside, I mounted three of my earliest gloves.’ Guerrilla marketing at its best. ‘I honestly didn’t know whether anyone would take me or my creative concepts seriously. And yet, by the end of the meetings, my gloves earned attention from MLB Radio and NBC Sports, and were even featured on the ESPN Christmas list.’
And the rest, as they say, is history. Nowadays, Sean handcrafts about twenty gloves a year for major league teams, individual players, and private sports memorabilia collectors. He’s got an upcoming solo show of his work at his alma mater, Butler University. And, as I mentioned at the top of this story, he’s in the hall of fame. Or his glove is, at least.
Which is good enough for me, I remind him. ‘And me,’ Sean laughs.