Chalk it up to a bit of artistic serendipity – the “J” on Mickey Mantle’s Joplin Miners baseball cap lines up with the “B” on Joe Becker’s Brooklyn Dodgers cap at the opposite end of the mural.
While not intended, says Burt Bucher, the J and B could easily stand for the Joplin Blasters, or maybe Joe Becker Stadium, where the mural created by a group of art students at Missouri Southern will be unveiled before the Blasters’ final game of the season at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30.
The idea for the three-panel, 8-by-16-foot mural originated with Leadership Joplin, a program of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. Missouri Southern’s Focal Point student art organization was asked to create it.
“The idea was to represent the history of Joe Becker Stadium and the history of Joplin as well,” said Bucher, associate professor of art. “The students designed it. They went through six or seven design ideas and Leadership Joplin voted for the one they liked.”
“The idea kept evolving over a period of several weeks,” said Lydia Humphreys, a sophomore art major who served as one of the lead designers. “Leadership Joplin liked this one, but they wanted to incorporate Route 66 and we also added the Joplin skyline.
“We projected the image onto the (panels), sketched it out again and started painting it last week.”
The depictions of Becker and Mantle are an homage to Joplin’s baseball history. Becker was a professional umpire and scout who served as business manager for the Joplin Miners minor league baseball team from 1936-42, and later as a pitching coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. Mantle played for the Miners in 1950 on his way up to Major League Baseball and a successful 17 years with the New York Yankees.
Throughout this week, the students spent long evenings completing the mural and adding in small details and textures that will make it stand out for stadium visitors.
“With big projects like this, it’s a bit different (than other mediums),” said senior art major Jenny Journeycake. “You have to put all these little details into it, then you have to back up across the room to look at it.”
The stadium mural isn’t the only large-scale work that art students from the university have created. Last fall, the “Downtown Gateway Mural” at Main and B streets was unveiled. The work commemorates downtown Joplin through images from the 1920s to the present.
“I think people are starting to see the quality of work that we can do,” said Bucher. “It’s a great partnership between the Art Department and the city.”
Shelby Moe, a junior art major, said she’s proud to see artwork that she’s helped with featured prominently in Joplin.
“It’s cool to make something that the whole town can enjoy,” she said. “It’s nice to see people appreciate art, even if it’s not what some people consider to be ‘high art.’ There’s common ground for everyone to enjoy it.”
The mural project was a natural way for Leadership Joplin to collaborate with the university to add some artistic enhancement to the new home of the independent baseball team.
“Leadership Joplin is a cooperative effort to share experiences, knowledge and insight into the dynamic community of the Joplin area, while expanding opportunities to enhance their community involvement skills while also gaining leadership training,” said Ginger LaMar, director of members services and development for the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. “We really appreciate the partnership with Missouri Southern, the city of Joplin and the Joplin Blasters.”