Are You Ready For Some Electric Football? From the Richmond Magazine

Photos courtesy of Jay Paul

It was a hot August night in Richmond, Virginia, when the denizens of the First Fridays Art Walk converged on the corner of Broad and Madison streets to collide in curiosity with scores of lovers of the game: that game being Electric Football. The place: the ADA Gallery. The event: opening night for the Electric Football Game Art Show.The Curatorial Quarterback: Music impresario and Electric Football fanatic Christopher Bopst. The Men of the Hour: scriveners and passionate game chroniclers Earl Shores and Roddy Garcia and Marvel Comics graphic artist Michael Kronenberg, who together created a massive, 15-years-in-the-making, 652-page, heavily illustrated volume, The Unforgettable Buzz: The History of Electric Football and Tudor Games.
Part exhibition, part shop and all fun, the show is up through Friday, Sept. 13. How did it happen here in Richmond?We turn now to John Pollard, the maverick art entrepreneur of ADA, who says of the show, “I fussed rhetorically with Chris regarding these guys not necessarily being artists, and this work not necessarily being ‘art,’ though some of those who make them, bend and twist the figures, or hand carve them definitely are artists. But whether it’s craft or hobby, it’s dedication and addiction, and imagination, and delving into an inner world, so from that respect, it’s closer to art than anything, I suppose.”Up next, the man with the vision, the strategist, the technician, whom most of us here in RVA associate with his various pursuits in the realm of music, reveals here his keen fascination with Electric Football.

Chris Bopst, John Pollard and Harry Kollatz Jr.

“I grew up with the game. I loved it,” says Bopst. “About a year ago, I looked up and was amazed to see what had happened. Then, you got players but the technology and know-how wasn’t there. Now, these guys are rendering in complete detail actual people in extreme miniature. Then I heard the Redskins were coming to town. Here’s Electric Football, the most profitable NFL game for 40 years. They’ve been working on that book for over a decade — which came out two weeks prior to the opening — and I thought, the Redskins will be here, let’s do a football exhibit.
“I thought it was funny for a game that was so vital to the financial health of the league they’ve never incorporated it somehow. It’s a mystery to me. John was into it from the get go, but in terms of getting stuff from the guys who play it, they don’t consider themselves artists, they’re not thinking, ‘I’ll make some money with my genius art here,’ which I found refreshing.”Men who insisted they weren’t artists, yet they could speak for two hours about the different kinds of varnishes used in making the figures.

Many of those figures are under glass not because they’re art, but to prevent theft. “They’re meant to be played with, after all. I didn’t want any of this stuff walking away.”

Bopst curated the show with 1,100 pieces and determined what could be sold, and what was to be appreciated. “By the end of it, I felt like one of those Tibetan Buddhist sand painters.”

Bopst-artshow

Chris Bopst points out some of the figures on display.

Bopst grew up next door to the defensive line coach for the Redskins, LaVern “Torgy” Torgensen.Torgensen’s daughters didn’t care for football, but the Bopst brothers loved it. One weekend afternoon, they’d look out their window to see the starting line-up of the Redskins drinking beer in Torgensen’s front lawn. “Not on TV but actually physically there.”

Bopst’s father, Alvin, made his way through college playing sports. When he went to the Korean War, he coached track and playing football. “Further evidence that sports can save your life,” Bopst observes. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. “I think he was going to make $75 a week, but, he was too old by then — at age 28. He was a straight arrow athlete, but he loved music. So I was weaned on football and Bob Dylan, polar opposites that make absolute sense to me.”

Electric Football enthusiasts mirror what happens in the big league. Some of them keep track of every single play. They spend countless hours to physically create teams. Bopst explains, “When I went to the Capital City Clash, nobody buys anything from a store. They bought figures from each other, the bases from each other, paint the figures. It’s an outsider art board game where every bit is hand made.”Pollard summarizes, “It’s opening a lid on a world that others might not know exists, and remembering an old game. If I didn’t show this, it would have been at a hobby shop, at best. But it wouldn’t have looked nearly as pretty! I was going for ‘weird roadside museum meets Japanese toy store.’ I hope I got close.”

The Electric Football Game Art Show at The Ada Gallery is available for free viewing Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., until Sept. 13.

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