Latest UNC Gem Comes From Virginia

I can't remember if I mentioned earlier that my best Christmas gift this year was a limited edition water color print of a snow man shooting a basketball at a goal nailed to a tree in a snow landscape. The snow man has a top hat on with UNC emblazoned across the front and there is a sign nailed to the tree that supports the basket which reads "Tar Heel Country." The snowman is dressed in a Carolina Blue basketball uniform with North Carolina across the front and the snowman proudly wears jersey number #1.

Where did such a painting originate and why am I confident that not many of you have seen copies of this print I'm going to tell you the answers to both of these questions.

The print was given to me by my next door neighbor who has become as much of a Tar Heel fan as I am. He is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, but he always dreamed of attending UNC. As you know, it is no easy task to be admitted to UNC from out of state, but that has not stopped him from rooting for the Heels. He has attended many UNC basketball and football games with me and has, on occasion, gone to games without me.

He purchased the print from the artist at a festival in the summer of '03 and bought it for me since he knew I would like its unique nature. Fortunately, the artist, Dan Larsen, lives in Reedville, Va., so I decided to contact him to see if I could arrange a meeting and get the answers to some questions I had. Reedville is about a hundred miles east of Richmond and at the turn of the century had the highest ratio of millionaires to the population of the town of any town in America. The money came from the Menhadden industry which, at the time, was centered around the Virginia/North Carolina coast. Menhadden are small oily fish not fit for human consumption, but a good fertilizer and they existed in abundance on the east coast around 1900. The major activity in the industry has since shifted to the Gulf of Mexico area in La. and Texas.

I called Mr. Larsen and asked if he could give me a few minutes for an interview, and he graciously agreed to do so.

I knew a few things about Mr. Larsen before I met him. I knew that he was a retired superintendent of a prison facility in Virginia, and that he was the son of the famous cartoonist Chick Larsen, who for years had his work published in the Richmond evening newspaper, the Richmond News Leader. I had been told that Mr. Larsen specialized in snow scenes and snowpeople, but I didn't know why. I also didn't know what his training and experience with water colors had been.

In his studio behind a beautiful house on the water, Mr. Larsen explained that he chose snow scenes because they brought back such pleasant memories for him, and he thought, for most people in parts of the country where snow occurs. He spoke fondly of the days he remembered as a child in Richmond. He says that he thinks most people respond positively to snow scenes for maybe the same reason he does and that was enough to motivate him to specialize in this area. He refers to the nowpeople as if they were real people, and the snowpeople have been featured in a book by an author friend. As far as his trraining, he is self taught which is intimidating to someone like me who never could draw anything above the 5th grade level. I have to believe there is something in his genes that enabled him to be self taught. It's similar to me teaching myself how to play the banjo. Most people have some sort of artistic talent, but not all of us realize the proper circumstances for these talents to develop.

Dan began painting about 14 years ago, and the activity the commercial side has increased considerably since he retired from his prison job several years ago. He has 32 shows scheduled for this year so he stays pretty busy.

The Carolina print is one of five college prints he has done. The other schools are Virginia Tech., UVA, U. of Maryland, Michigan and UNC. The best sellers are Virginia Tech and Maryland, and this may be attributable to the fact that most of his shows have been in areas where fan support for these schools is the largest. He has never done a show in North Carolina, but he is scheduled to do one in Greensboro in November so maybe the UNC sales will pick up then.

There has not been a great deal of enthusiasm expressed by the student stores at the schools for which paintings have been done and it baffles both of us as to why this is the case. He says a privately owned store in Blacksburg does a brisk biusiness in sales of the of the prints, but the student stores at Va. Tech do not carry them. He has notified all of the schools but, to date, no interest has been expressed in having them for sale.

I told Dan that I thought the UNC painting was not only good but unique enough that I thought many Tar Heels would want one for their collection of Tar Heel stuff. All of my Tar Heel friends to whom I have shown the print have loved it. Therefore, I informed Dan that I was going to do what little I could to increase the exposure of the print to the UNC fans. No financial deal involved.

I may ask him if I can reproduce the UNC print with this article.