Adventist Artist Uses Words to
Create Golf Legend’s Portrait
Fourteen-year project used 22,719 words; now a museum centerpiece
BY ANSEL OLIVER, Adventist News Network
olf icon Arnold Palmer entered the revamped United States Golf Association museum yesterday and stood in front of a unique portrait of himself, with the picture’s creator standing by. Both he and Seventh-day Adventist James David Chase, the artist who created the portrait, came close to tears during their emotional reunion.
In 2003, Chase first had the chance to show Palmer a copy of his work, which took 14 years to complete. What looks like a line drawing is actually a 30- by 40-inch portrait made entirely of quotes from or about Palmer.
“I memorized those words at that time,” Chase said yesterday, just before Palmer came to see the original piece. It's actually Palmer's copy, Chase clarified, which is now on permanent loan to the USGA's Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History in Far Hills, New Jersey.
Palmer, whose 92 golf victories during his career include four U.S. Masters, two British Opens and the 1954 U.S. Amateur Championship, again expressed his gratitude prior to yesterday's christening of the expanded museum, now named in his honor.
“You've gotta be proud of this, to have your work rewarded,” Palmer said to Chase of the portrait, now the centerpiece of the Palmer Room. “Thanks Jim.”
The portrait's title, “Gratitude,” expresses appreciation for a life of good character, said Chase, 61, who holds a doctorate in theology from Adventist Church-owned Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan and is a professor of communication at Adventist-owned Pacific Union College in Northern California’s Napa Valley.
Chase began the portrait in June of 1989, working 2 to 6 hours at a time in his home studio. He would wake up at 4 a.m. to walk around the college's track, burning off excess energy and getting his pulse to an ideal rate in order to write the one-tenth of an inch tall letters in between heartbeats.
Quotes by Palmer make up the portrait subject's lips. His ear is comprised of things Palmer heard. His gray hairs are things that gave him gray hair. “Basically having to do with errant shots,” Chase said.
“Everybody’s so excited about this,” USGA museum director Rand Jerris told Palmer during his personal tour of the new facility. Jerris even brought up on the touch-screen display a close-up section of the portrait’s shoulder to show his favorite quote: “‘Arnold, pull up your pants and tuck your shirt in,’--Dorris Palmer (mother).”
Jerris, who holds a doctorate in art and archaeology from Princeton University, told Adventist News Network the value of the portrait would be “impossible” to determine.
“From what we can tell, there has been nothing in the history of art or sports that is quite like this,” Jerris said. “It’s a real tribute to Arnold’s immense popularity, as well as a tribute to his character and humanity.”
Chase’s idea of doing a portrait of Palmer came to him in the middle of the night, he said. For months he studied several pictures of Palmer, examining facial muscles and shading--eventually settling on a look from the 1970s--and spent hundreds of hours in university libraries researching quotes.
“Here’s one of my favorites,” Chase told the crowded room yesterday: “’Thank God I had Winnie, Pap and the folks at home to keep me humble.’--after winning the 1960 Masters.”
“That’s the kind of person he is,” Chase said, seemingly in his element of working a crowd with eloquent speech and deferring praise from autograph seekers. On campus he espouses good character, kindness and is known for his encouragement to nervous first-time public speakers in his speech classes.
“Marries Winnie Walzer,” read the first words Chase wrote on the portrait. They refer to Palmer's wife of 45 years, who died in 1999.
Palmer “is a devoted family man, and he loved his wife so dearly,” Chase said. With similar devotion to his own wife, Chase dedicated the portrait to his wife Barbara.
The last word on the portrait, “adios,” has a triple meaning, Chase said. “Adios” is the name of one of Palmer’s more than 200 golf courses--the portrait’s signature is comprised of those “signature” courses. Chase said “adios” is also Spanish for saying “goodbye” or “tally-ho” to the portrait. Also in Spanish, the words “a” and “Dios” mean “to God.”
“This is a ‘thank You’ to God for everything and that we can celebrate the life of a man such as Arnold Palmer,” Chase said.