Samantha Wendell
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For This Artist, It All Started With Some Guy Named Gretzky
By Steve Ryan
Hockey Digest

April 1996

Over the last couple of years, sports art has become an increasingly popular fixture at collectibles shows. You cannot attend a show anywhere today without finding some form of sports art selling for hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Everyone from Joe DiMaggio to Jerry Rice to Mike Richter and Mario Lemieux has been featured in sports art in the last year or two. One of the artists who has made her mark on the sports art market and continues to attract more and more collectors is Samantha Wendell.

Before we go into the reason for profiling Wendell's story, you have to know that she was not a die-hard sports fan who grew up following her favorite heroes and then, after becoming an artist, just tied the two together. No, Wendell got her start in sports art by visiting a sports art gallery in Los Angeles in 1989. In that gallery was a painting of Wayne Gretzky. She noticed it and said, "Wow, that's great. Who's that?" Her friend, stunned, turned around and said, "Who's that? You don't know who that is? "She didn't know.

Wendell was born and raised in Los Angeles, and grew up strongly influenced by the entertainment industry. Gretzky had just been traded to Los Angeles from the Edmonton Oilers.

When Wendell's friend informed her that the guy in the painting was Wayne Gretzky, she again said, 'Who's that?" He nearly fainted.

He explained that Gretzky was one of the most famous sports figures in the world, the most dominant player of the day in any single sport. At the time, the gallery was planning a show with the Los Angeles Kings to inaugurate their first limited-edition print.

"They invited me to take part," recalls Wendell. "I got into hockey because of that show. I got to photograph the players. It was more exciting than a concert."

Since that day, Wendell has become friends with many of the hockey stars themselves, including Ed Belfour, Kelly Hrudey, Doug Gilmour, Dave Taylor, Bernie Nichols, Marty McSorley, and Gaetan Duchesne.

Some of her pieces include: a sprawling Hrudey making a save, entitled "Hrudey from Overhead"; a split shot of Gretzky in a Kings uniform and in an Edmonton uniform, entitled "That was Then...This is Now"; yet another painting of a sprawling goalie, this time Arturs Irbe, entitled "...Like Wall"; a close up of Mike Richter, entitled "Great Under Pressure"; Jari Kurri in a Kings and Oilers uniform, entitled "Then and Now"; a Doug Gilmour painting entitled "In the Moment"; and one featuring Dave - Taylor in old and current Kings uniforms, entitled "17 Years of #18."

Wendell has become a regular fixture around Kings practices and games since the start of the season. "I'm around the arena during practice with my paintings, either to have [players] sign the paintings for their, charities or talk over what I do," Wendell says. "A lot of times one or more will come up and say, 'Can you paint me in my various jerseys?' or that I did Wayne and Gaetan Ducheine in their jerseys [Edmonton and L.A. for Gretzky; Washington, Quebec, and Minnesota for Duchesne]. It gives them a piece of their own history."

Wendell even has been asked by some players' families to paint surprises for the players. "I painted Wayne's kids for him for Christmas," she says. I was lucky enough to be standing next to them at a game, and I asked if it would be okay if I took pictures of them at the game, and [Gretzky's wife] Janet said sure. I said 'No posing: and they were great. They were just themselves."

Wendell strives to be as accurate and realistic as possible with all of her paintings. "I was interested in painting Belfour without his mask," she says. "He said that wouldn't be real because he never takes his mask off, from the time he steps on the ice until the game is over. A lot of goalies flip masks off when they drink water or when they talk to their team-mates or the linesmen.Belfour does not take his mask off. In order to be realistic in the painting she thought it would bemore accurate to paint him with his mask on."

Even with paintings like those of Kurri, Taylor and Gretzky, in which she portrays two sides of the same player, one can see the youth of the player in the older uniform and the age change as the jersey changes.

Wendell's latest pieces include one of Ray Bourque, which she painted to coincide with the All-Star game in Boston last month. Belfour and TonyEsposito are featured in another of Wendell's paintings, showing the past and current Blackhawks goalies.

Trained as a painter in France and England, Wendell further developed her concepts through vigorous research and discipline. She since hasdone paintings not only of hockeystars, but of baseball greats NolanRyan, Pete Rose, Babe Ruth, LouGehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. By Steve Ryan.