Topekans Joseph Joslin Sr. and Mike Schoep had a recent brush with history when they found several signed works by well-known sports artist Ted Watts among the contents they purchased of a Topeka storage unit.
The College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., displays 77 paintings of Heisman Trophy winners done by Watts, who died at age 72 in 2015.
Watts gained a national reputation through decades of creating thousands of handcrafted sports artworks at his studio at Oswego, a city of about 1,800 people in southeast Kansas.
His studio’s website says Watts created art for more than 250 patrons, including 26 professional sports teams, 15 national sports publications and more than 150 colleges and universities. Those included the University of Kansas, for which he did paintings of more than 170 members of KU’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Joslin said he and Schoep came to own some of Watts’ works after responding in October to a Craigslist ad placed by a woman who was leaving town and offering to sell everything in her unit at a Topeka self-storage business. The men teamed up to pay $600 to buy it all, Joslin said.
Joslin and Schoep found the unit included a box containing works by Watts, which bore his signature. Included were black-and-white drawings highlighting:
• The perfect game thrown during Major League Baseball’s 1956 World Series by New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen. A limited edition lithograph print of that same image was the subject of an online auction last month.
• The World Championship won in 1957 by the Milwaukee Braves.
• The Pittsburgh Pirates’ victory in the 1960 World Series.
• The Brooklyn Dodgers’ victory in the 1955 World Series. Though it has a bit of water damage, Joslin said that artwork was his favorite among the group, largely because the team included Jackie Robinson. Joslin said he admires the courage and inner strength Robinson showed while breaking Major League Baseball’s color line.
Joslin said he’s negotiating to sell the artwork to a potential buyer, a relative of Watts who hopes to help preserve his legacy.
Watts was the subject of a 2001 Topeka Capital-Journal article headlined “Portrait of an Artist,” which told of how he’d become one of the nation’s most prolific artists in the niche field of sports illustration.
The article quoted Watts as saying he didn’t paint for the athletes.
“I paint for the mommas,” he said. “I say ‘mommas’ but I mean a wife, a girlfriend, a child — somebody who cares about the person. The athlete might look at it and think, ‘Well, that’s OK,’ but I’ll guarantee you one thing. When their momma sees it, she’s going to start crying.”
The article illustrated Watts’ attention to detail by describing how — years after the death in of KU sports information director Don Pierce — he worked from a series of black-and-white photos to craft an artwork that showed Pierce pecking away at an old typewriter using only his index fingers, with an envelope sticking out of his back pocket, a cigar tucked in the right corner of his mouth and an eight-ounce glass bottle of Coca-Cola within arm’s reach.