September 29, 2012

BASEBALL: The hallowed carved grounds of baseball

By Steve Solloway

AUGUSTA -- John Kennedy's eyes widened as he tried to comprehend the sight in front of him nearly 50 years ago. He was seeing old Yankee Stadium, the House That Ruth Built, for the first time.

click image to enlarge

All of the 36 ballparks that John Kennedy carved all started out as a 9-by-12-inch piece of Eastern White Pine. The frames are carved from the same block of wood.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

HALL OF WOOD: All of the 36 ballparks that John Kennedy carved all started out as a 9-by-12-inch piece of Eastern White Pine. The frames are carved from the same block of wood.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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"It felt like I was walking into God's house," said Kennedy. "Mickey Mantle lived here."

That reverence will be on display Sunday evening at Hoxter's Sports Bar & Bistro in Hallowell. A full collection of carved 9-by-12-inch images of 36 standing baseball stadiums will be shown for the first time.

Kennedy carved the front of Fenway Park first, in 2005. Minute Maid Park in Houston was done in June, completing the collection. Added stadiums include Hadlock Field in Portland and McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. Two others are Digital Domain Stadium at the New York Mets spring training site in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and San Jose Municipal Stadium, built as a WPA project during World War II and home to a San Francisco Giants' minor league team.

Kennedy, 60, is an artist, wood carver and carpenter. He got attention in the summer of 2004 by restoring in his Hallowell workshop, a trio of 12 to 14-foot wood alligators first created by artist Bernard Langlais. The alligators had been on display outdoors on the University of Maine-Augusta and when restored, alligators moved inside the Bennett D. Katz Library on campus. Kennedy has done similar projects.

"It's a lot of flattery when someone asks you to preserve and protect," he said. In a sense, carving all 30 major league baseball stadium continues that. "It's not about the fields or the spectators or the teams as much as the feeling I got when my father took me to Yankee Stadium for the first time.

"The carvings are for any fan who's never gone to a game and creates this image in his mind of what it's like to walk up to that stadium for the first time."

The majesty of Yankee Stadium, old and new. The rich traditional and historic aura that surrounds Fenway and Wrigley Field. The stadiums that fit so snugly into city neighborhoods, like Fenway, Progressive Field in Cleveland, formerly Jacobs Field, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Kennedy carved from photos. He stood outside some stadiums with his camera and collected photos of others. He lived for a time recently with a daughter and her family near San Jose. Muni Stadium, as it's called by Giants fans, is the oldest concrete stadium in California.

"It's incredibly decorated with artwork, like I've never seen," said Kennedy. He says he has no favorites; he's attached to them all. Fenway, Hadlock and McCoy, displayed together, will resonate with Red Sox fans of course. The three versions of Yankee Stadium represent in Kennedy's mind, Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter.

"I'm a baseball fan," said Kennedy, who grew up in New London, Conn., before moving to Maine nearly 40 years ago. "I love the historical significance of baseball."

He's been asked to carve stadiums no longer standing, such as Forbes Field in Pittsburgh or Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Maybe he will.

The carvings could be for sale. Prints of each will be. The formal showing will be from 5 to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Roger Sampson and the Sultans of Swat band will join Kennedy.

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Fenway Park and the other 35 ballpark carvings by John Kennedy look like a painting from a distance, but are carved in white pine and then painted.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan


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