For John Holladay, a high school graphic arts teacher from Davenport, Iowa, it all started back in 1975 with his cartoonish look at the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Well, I guess this success story could have started in much lesser ways. John could have begun his sports art career by drawing teams like Michigan, Ohio State, or possibly the darkest of enemies for any Hawkeye fan…the Iowa State Cyclones!
John Holladay grew up in the Quad Cities (Davenport & Bettendorf, Iowa and Rock Island & Moline, Illinois). As early as elementary school, John learned that he could entertain his friends by drawing cartoons. By the time he entered Marycrest College in Davenport, Holladay began painting watercolors, which led him to exhibit in shows throughout the Midwest.
A Mickey Mouse Project.
One year, he painted and displayed a typical landscape, but altered it just a bit by putting his childhood hero, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, asleep under a tree. That piece of art got John the attention he was looking for, with show-goers making comments like… “Why did you ruin the painting?” to “That is hilarious.”
Eventually, someone bought his Mickey Mouse painting, and at the next show, John, who was making a living as a school teacher in the Davenport schools, started selling cartoons. In 1975, Holladay took in an art show in Omaha, bringing along a cartoon version of the Nebraska Cornhuskers celebrating in Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium. He left Nebraska with nearly a thousand orders for a poster version of his Big Red art!
And so…it began.
Over time, the demand for John’s sports posters grew with every show he attended. In 1976, John formed Holladay Prints in Davenport and his artwork started selling locally and then expanded very quickly throughout the Midwest. Soon, he was asked to create posters for all of the Big Ten schools, Notre Dame, and then he branched out to do the South Eastern and Atlantic Coast Conferences as well. His Florida State image sold over twenty thousand posters!
The Chicago Cubs became his first professional team to be licensed, and eventually he was asked to create posters for the NFL and NBA. Over the next two decades, John would go on produce similar cartoons for over 40 different colleges and universities, selling over five million posters along the way!
My John Holladay Moment.
I remember buying my first John Holladay “Iowa Hawkeye-Kinnick Stadium” poster, featuring Coach Hayden Fry, back in the 80’s and proudly displaying it in my home in Evanston, Illinois. My wife, Sandy, a staunch Northwestern Wildcat fan, didn’t seem to appreciate the artwork as much as I did, but as most Iowa fans know, receiving love and appreciation from football fans outside Hawkeye Nation is rare!
Many believe John’s posters took off in popularity because they portray more than just sports. If you look closely at Holladay’s creative look at Kinnick Stadium (below), you’ll find a number of familiar faces sitting in the stands. Laurel and Hardy, the Pope, the Beatles, and the list goes on and on. Each one of John’s posters is more than just a sports theme – it’s a conversation piece!
John Holladay’s Davenport Day Job.
As it is with most successful marketing plans, John’s company eventually expanded beyond posters into t-shirts, jigsaw puzzles, and just about anything large enough to adequately display his eclectic designs. All the while, John held down his “day-job,” working as a staff artist for The Quad City Times.
Below, here are some of my favorite Holladay Hawkeye happenings…
John’s Mid-Life Crisis.
By the 1990’s, Holladay had created and marketed just about every sports-themed idea he could think of. In a series of recent interviews with The Quad Cities Times, he said…
When I was in the Quad-Cities, I kind of thought I would stay in the artist’s rut. Not because of the Quad-Cities, just because of me. I felt the need to do something different. I (was going) through mid-life crises…and started doing landscapes. A curator from New York came through the Davenport Art Gallery and said, ‘If you want to do landscapes, you need to move to the East Coast!’
So, in 2000, John had a big garage sale and headed to Cape Cod. “I’m having fun just doing landscapes,” he said. “I miss the Quad-Cities, but it was time for me to move on.” Today, Holladay no longer does the kind of caricature art he used to do. “I used to be a big fish in a little pond,” he said, “and now I’m a little fish in a big ocean. I love it.”
Recently, Holladay saw a student out his way wearing a Davenport Central soccer T-shirt. “It made me very happy to see someone from the Quad-Cities. He was great and we talked a lot about Central … what a great high school. I had the privilege of working with a lot of great students in Davenport.”
When asked to compare Cape Cod with his old Iowa stomping ground, John replied…
The great part about Martha’s Vineyard is that it reminds me so much of Iowa. The people here, you don’t know who the rich and the famous are. You’ll have not just movie stars walking down the street, but people who are like major inventors, doctors. They’re just common people, and no one knows who’s who. That’s what I liked about Iowa, everybody knew who they were.
Today, John’s work includes many medias. He is an illustrator and is known for his watercolors, and has been included in the New England Watercolor Society for the past three years. He also is a painter, known for oils and acrylics. To see Holladay’s current work, click here to visit his website.
Hats off to John Holladay – THANK YOU for your heart for Hawkeye art! ON IOWA!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.