John Holladay made his national mark with offbeat posters of America’s best-loved sports stadia from Fenway Park to Notre Dame Stadium that have tickled America’s sports fanciers and have produced five million poster sales since the 1980s. But the Island’s got him now.
“I want to devote my time to painting Island landscapes,” the 10-year Island resident said this week as he prepared to exhibit the original artwork of his poster collection for showing at the Louisa Gould Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.
The show opened yesterday and continues through June 21. An artist’s reception will be held at the gallery tomorrow evening, Saturday, May 28, between 5 pm and 7 pm.
Mr. Holladay is whimsical, pleasant, a down-to-earth man, whose personality is reflected in the watercolor and pen and ink drawings of sports venues and their ever-present fans. Only a few sports artists have captured America’s fancy as Mr. Holladay has. LeRoy Nieman and Sports Illustrated magazine’s Robert Riger come to mind as artists whose evocative sports illustrations made them sought-after artists.
“John Holladay is not only a prolific artist, he is a true talent. John works in many mediums, oils, acrylic, pen and ink, cartoons and watercolor, but he is most well-known for his watercolors,” says gallery owner Louisa Gould, who has represented his work for five years. “I am very excited to show John Holladay Sport Art — this new body of work which has never been shown here before,” she says.
Ms. Gould continues, “Although these sports teams of the NCAA, NFL, NBA were licensed and sold as posters in the 1980s, this is the first time the originals are available for sale. They are not only important as works of art, but historical importance, because John has included many relevant details within each watercolor illustration. This Sport Art show will appeal to sports fans, art followers, and those with a sense of humor. As a gallery owner, it is exciting to show a new genre of art by one of our Island artists.”
Mr. Holladay talks about his decision to sell the original stadia art: “The posters are all gone and I really thought about donating the original art to a library back home in Davenport [Iowa] but I want them to go into the hands of collectors, into the hands of people who love sports and teams. There are not too many sports artists out there and not too many galleries that display sport artists, so this is a good opportunity [to present the genre].”
His back stories about his work also appeal to sports fans. “I’m the only artist who has been allowed to work inside Notre Dame Stadium,” he says. “It took two years to get permission. Fr. (Ted) Hesburgh, ND president at the time, was very protective and wanted to make sure it was done right.”
And a concerned administration at the University of Indiana prohibited any likenesses of fiery basketball coach Bobby Knight throwing chairs, an antic that landed him in national hot water.
“But after we did the first one, Bobby asked me to include a chair somewhere in the background,” Mr. Holladay recalls.
Now it’s back to landscape painting, his first love back in Davenport where he cut his teeth at the Quad Cities Times as an illustrator. “I loved that job. You never knew, from day to day, what they’d ask for,” he says.
Mr. Holladay had never been to Martha’s Vineyard, and knew no one when he arrived 10 years ago. “When I began talking in Iowa about doing landscapes again, a friend told me to move to the East Coast. I had a sister on the Cape, discovered the Vineyard, and here I am,” he says.
“Friends also told me that I’d run out of scenes to paint after a few years but I never will. The possibilities are endless on the Island.”