USGA Museum Adds Snead Portrait To
CollectionJanuary 9, 2009
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - Gracing the walls and hallways of the USGA
Museum and Administrative Building at Golf House are hundreds
of photographs and paintings depicting golf courses, past
champions and important individuals who have played vital roles
in the history and success of the United States Golf
|Artist William Wolk, right, endured a
fire to his car and home in which he lost dozens and dozens
of works, but fortunately not the Snead portrait. (John
The USGA's collection of golf art comprises some 600 paintings
and works on paper, making it one of the largest and most
respected in the entire world. Some of the featured portraits
include golf greats Bob Jones, Gene Sarazen and Arnold Palmer.
Most of them are on display.
Sam Snead can now be added to that prestigious list.
Recently, a portrait of Snead by William Wolk was donated to
the Museum along with a contemporary painting by renowned
artist Will Barnet entitled, "The Golfer."
While the two pieces have an entirely different style and
composition, each provides a unique story and perspective of
the artist and subject matter.
"Our collection was a bit thin in examples of outstanding,
contemporary American artwork," said Rand Jerris, the USGA
Museum's director. "The Barnet painting filled a major gap
in our collection.
"The Snead painting is one of the finest portraits in the
collection. A lot of the portraits in our collection were
commissioned by the USGA. In many cases, a group of donors came
together to do it. This portrait is unusual because it was
created for a different purpose and then came to us. It's
outstanding â€¦ in terms of its technique. And it's a remarkable
likeness of Snead -- one of the best I've ever seen."
The Snead portrait almost never made it to Golf House. On the
evening of Aug. 31, 2008, Wolk's car parked in the driveway of
his Lewisburg, W. Va., home
inexplicably burst into flames. It not only torched the vehicle
but everything in his home. Fortunately, some unfinished
artwork was housed in Wolk's studio on the other side of the
driveway. The Snead portrait happened to be in the studio
awaiting a new frame, along with an unfinished portrait of the
Dali Lama that the 57-year-old Wolk had created to raise money
for a Tibetan monastery.
"I lost dozens and dozens of works," said Wolk, who is known
for his real-life depictions of people, landmarks and animals.
His portrait of President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks has now become part of Bush's Presidential
Collection and likely will be part of the George W. Bush
As for how Wolk, a non-golfer, wound up portraying one of the
game's greatest players, it all comes down to being in the
right place at the right time. For 25 years, Wolk had a gallery
at The Greenbrier, a swank resort in White Sulphur Springs,
W.Va., where Snead was the head golf professional emeritus.
Snead, considered one of the game's straightest drivers of the
golf ball, owns a record 82 PGA Tour victories, including seven
majors. The lone blemish on his Hall-of-Fame career was his
failure to win the U.S. Open Championship, where he finished
second four times. Only Phil Mickelson has the same number of
runner-up U.S. Open finishes without a victory.
While Wolk never played the game, he frequently saw Snead at
the resort and the two traded pleasantries whenever they
crossed paths. As Snead approached his 85th birthday in 1997,
the president of the resort approached Wolk about creating a
portrait of the golf legend, and since Wolk's shop was located
on property, he agreed to the proposition. He took several
photographs of Snead before putting paint to canvas.
As the project was nearing its completion, Snead's son, Jackie,
marveled at the authenticity. Everything was perfect except for two
items: Snead's forearms were a tad too small and the band on his
famous straw hat was missing its trademark plaid pattern.
"I didn't realize it was his signature," said Wolk, who never
watched Snead play during his heyday on tour. "I painted it as a
solid band. For me, it was just busy work."
The portrait remained at The Greenbrier for a decade until Wolk's
manager suggested he donate the portrait to the USGA.
"She said this needs to be somewhere where it's the proper fit and
people will see it," said Wolk. "She came up with the USGA and
called Rand Jerris. They said they'd love to have it. It was as
simple as that."
The portrait itself captures the legend that Snead has become. In
his arm is a classic persimmon driver, an implement that Snead
swung with the precision and skill that made him one of golf's
icons. Wolk is especially proud of how the tones of the driver head
"When I first looked at it, I was worried if I could do it," said
Wolk. "I wouldn't even know what kind of driver that is. Obviously,
it came out great."
Like Wolk, Barnet has never played the game. Born in Beverly,
Mass., Barnet knew at the age of 10 he wanted to be an artist, and
he wound up as one of America's brightest contemporary painters and
foremost printmakers. He became a key figure in the New York
Indian Space Painting,
artists who based abstract and semi-abstract work on Native
American art. In his early years, Barnet's work centered on
abstract painting, but later he returned to figurative painting.
His figures tend to be stoic characters, many of those being women
In 1987, he was commissioned by the Kennedy Galleries in Manhattan
to create a series of sports paintings that included ice skating,
lacrosse, table tennis, badminton and golf. Living next to a golf
course in Maine inspired Barnet to produce his two golf paintings
for the exhibit: "The Yellow Cart" and "The Golfer," which depicts
a father standing next to his son, who is serving as his caddie.
Originally, the father's face on the painting was an illustration
of Barnet's son-in-law, but when he divorced Barnet's daughter in
2000, Barnet took the painting back and replaced the son-in-law
with his good friend and Naples, Fla., art gallery proprietor Bill
Meek, 58, and Barnet have had a professional relationship that
dates back to 1972, and to this day, the two remain the closest of
friends. Barnet, now 97, resides at the National Art Building in
New York's Gramercy Park.
Shortly after Barnet re-worked "The Golfer" to have Meek's face
appear on the painting, the work was displayed at a show in
Florida. Meek, who took up golf in 1999 and has lowered his
handicap from a 28 to a 7, even dressed the part replete with a
hickory-shafted club, which drew praise from the approximately 500
people who attended the grand opening.
"Bill is so happy [to be in that painting]," said Barnet, who still
paints on a regular basis despite his advanced age. "He's a great
golfer and I honored him by making him a part of my painting."
But putting Meek in the painting also prevented it from being sold,
at least in Naples, where Meek is well known in the esoteric world
"There are a lot of wealthy women who are single, and my wife would
have had a fit if one of them had bought the painting," said Meek.
"It wasn't going to happen."
So Meek approached Barnet about donating the piece, suggesting a
museum. "Well, I am in every museum," Barnet told Meek. Barnet's
works can be found everywhere from the Vatican to all of New York
City's major art institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of
Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art and Guggenheim.
"That's when I thought it would make a great gift to the USGA,"
said Meek. "To me it was an all-or-nothing situation. I really
wanted it to go to the USGA."
In 2006, Meek contacted Jerris about loaning two-dozen pieces of
the USGA's collection for a special "Golf In American Art" exhibit
at The von Liebig Art Center in Naples. Now Meek would be calling
Jerris again, and the USGA's director didn't hesitate about
accepting this rare gift. A week before the grand opening of The
Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, the Barnet painting came to
Golf House and now proudly resides on the stairwell that leads from
the first floor of the museum to the administrative offices.
"We're happy that it's there," said Barnet, whose other piece, "The
Yellow Cart," could also find its way to the USGA Museum.
Meek said the painting was a natural for the USGA because it
represents "the essence of the USGA."
"There are very few pieces of golf art that would be recognized by
the community of art critics as great art," said Jerris, who also
received three other pieces of art from Meek's gallery, including
two of Tiger Woods (Richard Segalman and Hunt Slonem) and a
landscape of Yale Golf Club's ninth hole (John Falato). "To receive
a golf image by Will Barnet, one of the most central figures in the
development of 20
-century American art, is truly a memorable moment for us."
"When we made the decision to focus on champions and championships
in the Museum, it limited our ability to feature our world-class
collection of golf art. But there is one large hallway in the
original Museum building that we'll continue to use as a rotating
art gallery. Every six months we'll change what's on display and
put together shows highlighting our collection."
DavidShefteris a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions
or comments at
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