The Kid Who Can Draw. There’s one in every class, thought of by everyone else as special for his talent. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, in the 1950s, Garth Potts was that kid. Hoping to draw professionally, he studied fine arts, ultimately earning a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1972. But following graduation, he got no farther than drawing caricatures in malls.
“I had dreamed of make a living at it, and I didn’t,” Potts, now 66, recalls with a characteristic chuckle. “But I was fortunate to have something else to make a living at.”
Buffalo’s Jewish Community Center hired him to run teen programs, the first of his seven JCC postings, all over the United States. The tour culminated with a 22-year stint at Mountain Brook’s Levite Jewish Community Center, where he served as executive director.
Upon retirement in January, he returned his attention to drawing, meanwhile rekindling his boyhood love affair with baseball. Using brush markers — pens with a supple pressed-fiber tip that produce lines ranging from spiderweb-fine to blocky — he blends a classic cartoon style with that of Norman Rockwell. Of his baseball work, Potts says, “I’ve just always loved drawing the uniforms, the gloves, and all of the equipment, and of course the players themselves.”
The players’ likenesses may be his strongest suit. “Garth’s caricatures are gorgeous,” says Chris Garrison, the founder of the Salty ’Ham Cartooneestas, Alabama’s foremost cartoonist organization. “You immediately know whose they are. They’re fun and funny and, at the same time, very real. His love for his subjects is obvious.”
In his second attempt at being an artist, Potts has been, to borrow a phrase from baseball, a hit. The Society for American Baseball Research — SABR — whose advanced player performance metrics form the foundation of the “Moneyball” approach to major league roster construction, selected Potts to illustrate its Negro League Conference catalogue. Among other players, he drew his longtime favorite, Satchel Paige. As an eight-year-old, Potts was taken by his grandfather to see the legendary Negro Leaguer pitch for the Miami Marlins against the hometown Buffalo Bisons.
Potts’ thoughts on the publication: “When you see your art reproduced, it reinforces the fact that other people like what you’ve created. It’s a pretty special feeling.” And even better: “SABR has a really good grasp of the history of baseball and the obstacles blacks faced in order to compete. I feel good about being able to contribute to that.”
SABR has also run Potts’ drawings of Cuban baseball stars and Newark Eagles players in Black Ball, the Negro Leagues journal that is must-reading among statistically and historically minded baseball fans.
Meanwhile, Potts’ work has been featured in a slew of area gallery shows. And recently, the Birmingham Barons invited him to throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to a game. At the rate Potts’ successes are mounting, it wouldn’t be surprising if he remains in the game. In this inning of his new career, he certainly looks like a winner.