Long Dead Michigan Artist Gains Fame Through Baseball Painting
Earlier this summer, a baseball painting by a Michigan artist sold for $48,000 at auction. The 1915 painting “Yer Out” by Fletcher Ransom shows a player for the Pittsburgh Pirates trying to steal home plate, but the New York Giants’ catcher is too quick and tags the runner out.
Robert Edward Auctions in New Jersey - which sold the painting - specializes in baseball collectibles. It called the work one of the best it’s seen.
“You’ve got two of the most prominent hall of famers - Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner - in a really nice game action scene and the size is particularly impressive too. It’s about 48 by 30 inches,” says auction house president Brian Dwyer.
'The family, they can't understand why - because he was so prolific and he was a very, very good artist - why he isn't more renowned'
But its painter, Fletcher Ransom, is far from famous. That is, to almost everyone but Dianna Stampfler. Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan - a public relations company that focuses on Michigan industries.
She grew up in Plainwell, where Fletcher lived out the last few years of his life.
Stampfler estimates she has about 50 to 60 of Ransom’s works. All of them much much cheaper than “Yer Out.” The most expensive cost her about $100, the least was about five bucks.
“Outside of Plainwell and Alamo, nobody knows who he is I think in our area. But his story is just such a great one. I mean he traveled the world. He worked for the railroad. He made a living doing what he loved,” says Stampfler.
Fletcher Ransom was born in Alamo, Michigan in 1870. He went to college for art in Chicago and New York City, and later got a job as an illustrator in New York.
His work was in many major publications of the time including The Saturday Evening Post and The New York Times. He also illustrated books and did some commercial ads.
Sandy Stamm is a historian at the Charles A. Ransom District Library in Plainwell - named after Fletcher’s uncle. She says Fletcher’s work was everywhere.
“The family, they can’t understand why - because he’s was so prolific and he was a very very good artist - why he isn’t more renowned,” says Stamm.
One of Ransom's more striking works is a calendar series he did for the Illinois Midland Railroad Company. Stamm says it shows the many sides of Abraham Lincoln.
“There’s the surveyor. Here he’s a wrestler. There’s the education, the soldier, the postmaster, the pioneer,” she says.
Many of Ransoms paintings capture the feel of a certain time in American history.
“His style is…it’s American rural I think. You look at the prints and it’s houses and it’s boys fishing on the creek and it’s the traveling salesman coming home to the country home. And it’s folks playing cards around the table at the resort,” says Dianna Stampfler.
Fletcher Ransom married an opera singer named Jessamin McDonald in 1899. They had a daughter and moved to Illinois. He and his wife later divorced.
At the age of 64, Ransom fell ill and moved back to Michigan to live with his sister, Fannie, in Plainwell. Though Stamm says she does not know the nature of his illness.
Stamm says over the years Ransom lived in Plainwell, a few families in town acquired his paintings. He would also draw small things for people on a whim.
A nurse named Winifred Pallet took care of Fletcher while he was sick. He drew a scene of them walking outside together with his hospital gown comically open in the back.
Fletcher Ransom died in 1943 at the age of 72. We were unable to contact his living relatives for this story.
Dianna Stampfler says when she’s gone, her entire collection will go to the Ransom District Library in Plainwell.
“It’s not about me owning all this stuff, it’s preserving this stuff for somebody,” she says.