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Mudville: September 29, 2022 7:35 am PDT
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Tim Carroll would have never imagined that a trip to New Orleans would change his life in such a profound way. Yet, after spending some time in the city’s French Quarter, Carroll came away with an idea that would ultimately vault him into a prominent place in the world of baseball art.

The South Carolina resident’s “cutting edge” technique has made him one of the genre’s most sought-after artists, leaving him with a list of commissions that will take him years to complete. Carroll, 44, a former math teacher, has been creating his unique form of art fulltime since leaving the classroom in 2016, using something considered ‘common’ to create something completely uncommon.

Carroll’s reproductions of famous trading cards, most of which focus on baseball, are the result of hours of planning and labor intensive cutting of what are considered common baseball cards from the 1980s and 1990s. These cards, which were mass produced as the bottom was falling out of the card collecting market, are virtually worthless but Carroll has taken them and turned them into treasures by cutting them up and putting the pieces together like a puzzle, fashioning reproductions of some of the most famous and valuable cards ever distributed.

His “cut card artwork” now sells for thousands of dollars and has been featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Shoebox Treasure Exhibit while his recreation of the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie card currently hangs in the Hall. His work has also been featured in the Ted Williams Hitter’s Hall of Fame and the Sports Museum of Los Angeles.

Honus Wagner. (Photo courtesy of timcarrollart.com)

Carroll’s unique approach of using old cards has allowed him to take millions of cards that would have otherwise been collecting dust or headed for the recycling bin and make them collectible once again. And it all began innocently with a trip to Louisiana.

“I graduated from Ole Miss in the spring of 2009 and my wife, Kim, was also a teacher,” Carroll said. “She was attending a science conference in New Orleans and while she was working I went along and kind of just looked around the French Quarter. I looked at all the weird art they had in the galleries and I picked up a magazine that had a story about the 100th anniversary of the [T206] Honus Wagner card.

“I thought it would be cool to do something with all the commons I had to pay tribute to Wagner. I came home and I pulled them out and I started cutting. That first Wagner was crude, it was almost primitive, I want to say. As time went on, I got much better with getting the shadows right and the highlights right on the skin. It just came with time.”

“I have no desire to cut up cards from the 50s and 60s… I try to keep it to the late 80s and early 90s. It doesn’t matter the condition they are in, either.”

Carroll, however, said that he had no intention of cutting them at first. He simply laid out all the cards and overlapped them. He was using 1988 Topps commons and he thought the burnt orange on the card would be close enough to a depiction of Wagner if it were overlaid in a certain way.

“I had not even thought about cutting them,” he said. “But to get closer to what I wanted to do and get the skin tones right the cards had to be destroyed. I asked myself if I was willing to chop up a thousand cards to make this picture. You can get so many of these cards at yard sales and no one is going to miss them so that’s where it came from.

“I first put the Wagner online after I made it almost as a joke, asking would you guys trade 996 commons for a Honus Wagner. The whole concept just took off. People started asking me can you do this guy. Before long I was taking commissions. Beckett [Magazine] wrote a story about it and after that I got on this blog and in a forum and once all that social media took off, I ran with it and it’s been amazing.”

Ken Griffey, Jr. (Photo courtesy of timcarrollart.com)

When Carroll didn’t get the backlash he expected for cutting up cards, he went to see his father, Paul, and took the Wagner with him. He told his dad that he had posted it online and that he had gotten a great deal of positive response.

Carroll explained the project to his father. Paul Carroll was a tough, retired military man and perhaps Tim Carroll expected a certain response. The reaction he got, however, was surprising.

“I expected him to just say something and move on,” Carroll said. “But he said you’re taking two things that you love, drawing and art and cards, and you are combining them in a way that I don’t see anywhere. He said I was going to be very successful if I kept on it. He was my biggest fan. “We lost him back in January of 2012, though, and he only got to see the first two-and-a-half years or so of it.”

His dad would be amazed to see where it has all gone. Most of Carroll’s creations stay in the 22×28 range though some are narrower depending on the subject matter. He can’t make them much smaller because when the picture is that small he has to use an exacto knife while putting the work under extreme magnification. The amount of time it would take to produce such a print would simply take up too much of his time.

The cost of the prints varies but they usually start between $5,500 and $6,000. Carroll said that some can get into five figures, going higher than $20,000, depending on the amount of time and intricacy involved with making the print.

It usually takes him between 70 and 80 hours to create a piece but if there is more detail involved, he can work on one for as many as 140 hours. Some, like his recreation of Norman Rockwell’s Game Called Because of Rain featuring three umpires, have taken just over 300 hours to complete.

Mickey Mantle. (Photo courtesy of timcarrollart.com)

Carroll will also only use cards specific to a certain sport on his creations. Baseball pieces require baseball cards while basketball and football pieces require basketball and football cards etc. He even did a Tiger Woods using all golf trading cards. However, he will only use commons.

“I don’t want to cut up something that someone else might want,” Carroll said. “I have no desire to cut up cards from the 50s and 60s. A lot of people want to use those as fillers for sets. I try to keep it to the late 80s and early 90s. It doesn’t matter the condition they are in, either.

“I also try not to cut Hall-of-Famers or well-collected stars like Bo Jackson, Wil Clark, Darryl Strawberry, those kinds of guys. A lot of people like those guys and collect them so I put them on the side and try not to cut them. It’s a whole trash to treasure vibe. I use cards of someone that nobody wants or cares about. I have about 60,000 cards that I decided not to cut. As time goes on, I’ll organize them by player. I probably have several hundred of the Hall-of-Famers from the late 80s and early 90s.”

Carroll’s affinity for baseball comes from a love of the game that began at early age growing up in northern Mississippi. He played ball from little league through high school and said he got plenty of opportunities because he was left-handed. He went 26­-2 in four years pitching for his high school team but says he “couldn’t throw the ball through a pane of glass”.

Since there were no Major League teams close by, he began following the Red Sox. He loves the city so it only seemed natural.

However, his sons Drew, 20, who is a student at Clemson, and Mason, 15, began to follow New York Met Pete Alonso when he burst on the scene in 2019. He said his sons wanted to watch all the Mets games so Carroll joined in. He hasn’t put the passion for New York into his work just yet though.

The Billy Ripken F--k Face. (Photo courtesy of timcarrollart.com)

“I haven’t done an Alonso yet, time hasn’t allowed,” he said. “I have a commission list that is several years long so anything outside of a commission piece I won’t get to for a year or two if that much. Much of this commission work is hired out years in advance. I guess that’s the price you pay for doing it for a living but I love it.”

That Carroll’s wife was so supportive of the endeavor at the outset has made a world of difference for the artist, who was able to continue creating without having to worry about bringing home a traditional paycheck. That it all worked out favorably only adds to his appreciation for the role she has played in his success.

“We talked about and we do everything together; we are best friends,” Carroll said. “Anything I’m thinking I bounce off her and she bounces off me. As time went on and I was teaching and doing more art, the wait list grew and I was raising prices. Things didn’t slow down and I just got to a point where I spent all day working at school and on nights and weekends, I was trying to do the art to keep up. Something had to change because there wasn’t enough family time and I was getting tired.

“In the fall of 2016 the opportunity came up where my schedule [at school] was getting changed. The classes were being blown up and the rosters were going to change. We had just talked about it the week before and I didn’t want to abandon the kids during the school year. I planned on waiting till the end of the semester but we made the decision to go ahead and give it a shot. I had a year and a half of pieces on the wait list to figure things out. It was scary leaving a salaried position but fortunately it all worked out.”

Carroll says he has no idea where his work will take him next, that he is simply enjoying the ride. He hopes it is something that carry him through the rest of his life. While he and his wife have discussed retirement, he can’t see himself retiring from his art.

That more cards come out every year only adds to the list of potential subjects he can create. Carroll will certainly remain busy while staying a “cut” above his competition.

 

You can find Tim’s work on his website: www.timcarrollart.com

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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