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Mural to tell story of Shockers -- in three very large chapters

March 15, 2003

Later this season, artist Ted Watts' design will dominate Eck Stadium's concourse.

by Fred Mann

The Wichita Eagle -- Anybody who is unaware of the history of Shocker baseball under coach Gene Stephenson will get an eyeful of it when they enter Eck Stadium later this spring.

But they will have to work to take it all in. Wichita State baseball past and present will be spread over a 78-foot wide by 10-foot high mural created by nationally renowned sports illustrator Ted Watts of Oswego.

"Nobody will be able to stand there and see the whole thing. You're going to have to walk 78 feet," Watts said. "It's going to be like the never-ending painting."

Due for unveiling at a Shocker game against Oral Roberts on May 13, the mural will be free standing inside the main entry of the stadium.

It will consist of three panels -- a center panel 18 feet wide and side panels 29 feet, 4 inches wide.

It will be the largest work Watts has completed, more than twice the size of the 33-foot-by-9 Ĺ-foot Oklahoma football mural he did in 1998 for the Barry Switzer Center's Legends Lobby at the south end of Memorial Stadium in Norman.

Working out of his studio in Oswego for 30 years, Watts has done illustrations for more than 150 colleges and universities, as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee, the NCAA, and the baseball, basketball, wrestling, pro and college football halls of fame.

Some of the projects are ongoing, but Watts, who grew up in Anthony and followed Shocker sports, has put them on hold to finish the Wichita State mural. Not only is it twice the size of the OU mural, he will have had less than half the time to complete it. He didn't sign the contract until August after another artist backed out, he said.

The Sooner mural took 16 months. Wichita State's will be done in seven.

"They're all nervous about if I can get it done," Watts said, "and frankly I am, too."

In all, 54 people will be featured in the mural, including Stephenson, pitching coach Brent Kemnitz and 52 players. The players are those Shockers who were All-Americans, major leaguers, academic All-Americans or made special plays in the history of the program.

One pre-Stephenson Shocker in the mural will be former major leaguer Don Lock.

Funding for the mural is coming entirely from a donation by the Diane Cline family in honor of the late Grant Davis, founder and former owner of the Davis-Moore Auto Group.

Stephenson had the idea for the mural. "I thought it would be really something special to have kind of a history in some way, a pictorial history, of what has gone on here the past 25 years or so," he said.

The center panel features Stephenson in past and present incarnations, and includes 11 College World Series players and special moments, including the 1989 championship celebrations and White House visit. The viewpoint is looking toward the entrance of Eck Stadium.

Center Panel

The left panel features Kemnitz and NCAA Players of the Year Darren Dreifort and Bryan Oelkers, as well as WSU's 14 other All-American pitchers. It also features the Bluma brothers and closer Jim Newlin. Its background viewpoint is of the field from the grandstands, looking toward center field.

Left Panel

The right panel features Joe Carter and Phil Stephenson, and includes 14 other Shocker All-Americans, as well as six players who were not all-Americans but who reached the major leagues.

Right Panel

The background viewpoint of the right panel is flip-flopped from the left, looking from center field back toward the grandstand.

"What I wanted to do was have the setting where most people say, 'Hey, I sat there,' or, 'I've driven by and seen that press box,' " Watts said. "Murals are supposed to tell stories. The site is part of the story.

"If I'd had more time I'd have worked in more spirit people, the mascot, and fans. But, frankly, I didn't need additional elements to make it more time-consuming. I was going down to the wire as it is."

And too many elements can spoil a mural, he said.

"It can get so busy that it doesn't tell a story," Watts said.

Watts, who began his free-lance art business by doing the 1972 Kansas State football media guide, said he is only 25 percent finished with the painting, but that's the easy part. He has finished the more difficult stages -- drawing the preliminary sketches and arranging all the elements, a process he compared to assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

"I've gone through all the drudgery. Now I'm ready to run, and I love it," Watts said.

The project combines art and computer technology. Watts is using reference photographs from WSU and The Wichita Eagle to paint the feature elements in the mural. He is painting them to one-third scale in his studio in Oswego.

Watts estimated that he will complete the artwork by April 18. The finished paintings will be digitally scanned and arranged as a composite whole on the computers of Custom Color Corp., in Kansas City, Mo.

It will be printed at a sister company, then direct-printed onto sections of eighth-inch styrene, a hard, dense plastic substance that doesn't bend or warp.

The left and right panels will consist of nine sections, the center will have five. And the sections must fit together precisely.

"You cannot be off 1/16th of an inch," said Joel Seidelman of Custom Color. "Because of the drawings and the way he has the horizontal and vertical lines, it has to match up perfectly."

The sections will be transported to Eck Stadium for installation, which will take two or three days, Watts said. It will be done while the Shockers are on an extended road trip.

The bottom of the mural will be 9 feet, 6 inches off ground, so viewers will have to stand back 10 to 12 feet to just to get a view of part of it. Dan Waller of Conco Construction in Wichita will put a steel beam between the stadium support columns for the bottom, Watts said. Display Studios of Kansas City, Mo. will build a rigid steel framework to encase the mural.

Legends at the base of the mural support columns will inform viewers about what they are seeing in the panels above them.

A lacquer sealer will be sprayed over the mural to help seal the seams of the 4-foot sections and make it easier to clean ambient dust.

How the mural will hold up to blowing rain is a concern.

"That's the only thing I'm antsy about," Watts said. "I really don't know."

Inside, the same material will last 70-80 years, he said, but outside, even though protected, some ultraviolet light from the sun can affect color over time, he said.

"The first version may only have a life of 7-8 years, then have to be replaced," Watts said.

Computer technology will allow Watts to add new elements to the mural as the Shockers produce new All-Americans. At OU, Watts added Bob Stoops, Josh Heupel, Roy Williams and Rocky Calmus to the football mural.

He can paint the new elements and through the magic of computers reduce the size of those already in the mural, or move them around to squeeze the new ones in.

Watts said a mural this size has room to add 50 or more elements.

The idea that the mural can be updated has special appeal to Stephenson. "It's not something that's going to become outdated," he said.

"Not only is it going to be something that Shocker fans everywhere are going to want to see and return to see time and time again, but it's going to be a permanent focal point that people look at on this campus.

"I think it's going to be really neat when its done and really special and unique, something all sports fans all over this part of the country are going to be proud of."