Crystal Lake artist John Hanley is no stranger to the Cubs. He was raised a Cubs fan and remains one to this day. So when Cubs Charities approached him with an offer to celebrate Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary by helping them paint a collection of ballpark seats, several ideas popped into his head.
He could paint Kerry Wood striking out 20 Houston Astros batters in 1998, or he could paint Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks, smacking his 500th home run in front of the Cubs' faithful. He requested to paint these moments, only to find out that he didn't have a say in it.
The disappointment didn't last long.
Hanley, who had been assigned to portray the seventh-inning stretch, quickly realized he would have the opportunity to paint legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.
“When they handed me Harry Caray, I was like, ‘Oh, even better,’” Hanley said. “An icon like that, you can’t go wrong.”
For Hanley, portraying the Cubs through art is nothing new. Before the Centennial Seats project, Hanley had illustrated several books involving Wrigley Field, and when Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins’ No. 31 was retired, he presented the two with illustrations of themselves.
“With baseball especially, its the history. I'm kind of a history buff and I just love baseball, so I kind of found a niche as an artist,” Hanley said. “I think every artist needs to find their niche. Some people like comic books, some people like landscapes, I just like to do baseball.”
Hanley’s seventh-inning stretch seats are part of a larger collection of ballpark seats being auctioned by Cubs Charities. With 100 total seats being auctioned in 50 pairs, there are 47 different artists. Both the design and creator can substantially vary from chair to chair. Just a few of those involved in designing a chair were actor Vince Vaughn and Bears tight end Martellus Bennett.
Much like the variety of artists, the scenes or events depicted on the seats range from Wrigley Field’s greatest moments to events at the ballpark completely unrelated to baseball.
“The history of Wrigley Field is really a shared history with the city of Chicago. And many people don’t realize all the events that have occurred here, both baseball and otherwise,” said Connie Falcone, Cubs director of community affairs. “We saw the Centennial Seats project as a way to really highlight that.”
Hanley’s chairs, and all 100 of the centennial seats, will be available for auction on the Cubs' website until Aug. 10. After the auction, the proceeds will be split between Cubs Charities and the community groups that designed the chairs.
Until then, they will line Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, providing a glimpse into the 100 years of Wrigley Field for those who pass by.
“What’s fascinating to me is the interpretations that all of these groups have had,” Falcone said. “And that as a collection how different all of these chairs are. Which makes the whole collection incredibly interesting.”
For Hanley, aside from the nuts and bolts aspects such as stretching a canvas over the seat to make up for extra space, or taking the seat to an auto body shop to get a clear coat of paint like a car; it was important to fit as much quintessential Cubs aspects on the chair as possible. Aspects such as the outfield ivy, Caray, and even all the words to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
And while the seats are just another addition to Hanley’s collection of Cubs illustrations, that doesn’t diminish their importance.
“It was an honor to work on it,” Hanley said. “It's something that people will remember for a long time.”
For information on the Cubs' Centennial Seats or to place a bid, visit WrigleyField100.com. Click on Centennial Seats on the top right corner of the main page.