David Wilkinson: Bringing sports memories to life

As a Flyers fan of a certain age, I can only imagine what it would have been like for David Wilkinson to be sitting at his kitchen table, across from one Brian Propp.

David Wilkinson

If you are a fan over the age of 30, you may remember “Propper” as the hard- working slick-skating forward for the Flyers who bridged the gap between the end of the Broad Street Bullies Era and the Mike Keenan/Paul Holmgren years, or possibly as one of the team’s radio broadcasters in recent years.

The events that led to this meeting trace back to Berlin, New Jersey.

Dave Wilkinson may have been too young to remember the Flyers’ Cup winning days, but it didn’t keep him from getting bitten by the Orange and Black bug.

Like many of us who unfortunately missed out on that era, Dave was nonetheless able to piece together the events of those glorious post-expansion years and become a full blooded fan.

Flash back to 1986…fresh from a shocking first-round defeat at the hands of the hated Rangers the previous spring making the sudden loss of Pelle Lindbergh all the more stinging. Philly entered its 20th NHL season with a high degree of uncertainty.

Would they be able to recover from the tragic loss of a dear teammate or continue their slide to places unknown?

Wilkinson with Brian Propp

But it was on the lanky shoulders of Ron Hextall — a 22-year-old rookie goaltender who played music on the posts and antagonized anyone who dared cruise near his crease — that Dave and the rest of us got to witness a team which we could call our own. As Team Captain Dave Poulin once put it, “The Bad Boys were bad again.”

One of the defining moments of Dave’s Flyers fandom was watching the attitude, theatrics and intensity of Hexy’s play. From street hockey in the tennis courts of Berlin to the Flyers’ practice ice of the Coliseum in Voorhees, Dave played the game whenever and wherever he could, and the Hextall swagger naturally bled into his mindset on the rink.

Wilkinson and Ron Hextall

In a cruel twist, a knee injury sustained on the ice his junior year of high school ended Dave’s dream of playing hockey in college and beyond, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Dave possessed a unique talent that would eventually help him to break into the hockey world… art.

Coming from an artistic family, Dave already had the creative temperament flowing through his veins and into his pencils and brushes. This talent was able to intertwine perfectly with his fervor for cheering on the Flyers.

Jim Hasson: What are your earliest memories of being a Flyers fan?
Dave Wilkinson: It is actually kind of hard to pinpoint when exactly I became a Flyers fan. Hockey has been something I have loved for longer than I can vividly remember. I actually still have an “all about me” school project from when I was 6 or 7 years old. In the “when I grow up I want to be” section I answered “a hockey player” and included a drawing of myself as a hockey player all dressed in Flyers orange. I guess that is really my first sports illustration.

Later in his teens, Wilkinson sold his first painting, a portrait of Ron Hextall — to a guidance counselor who saw a similar one he had painted on display in the school showcase.

DW (remembering that first sale): I think I got $50 for it.

Wilkinson continued to hone his craft locally, at the Hussian School of Art, where he often submitted sports related pieces whenever it was appropriate.

JH: How did your two passions intertwine?
DW: I suppose sports and art have always been “intertwined” for me because for most of my life  I have loved both. Art is just the way I have always naturally expressed myself and my interests.

As a kid I just always drew or painted what I loved or was into at the time. As my tastes evolved so did my subject matter. Once I became a Flyers fanatic during the 1986-87 season, many of my drawings were of Hextall, Lindbergh or other greats of the game like Grant Fuhr, Wayne Gretzky, etc. Even when attending art school in the early 90’s it seemed if I could meet the demands of a project with a sports related image, I often did so.

Wilkinson and Riley Cote

Wilkinson’s first professional illustration job was to create a cover of NFL Films’ “Road to the Super Bowl” video. He felt lucky to have been given such a great opportunity at such an early stage of his career. This also afforded Dave to work with local legend Steve Sabol, which he describes as “both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.”

In the years that followed Dave thrived both professionally and creatively. Working with Mattel Toys he had the opportunity to branch into a wide variety of areas expanding his creative arsenal while working on national brands. In his more than eight years with the company, David created countless Matchbox cars featuring his artwork including an entire line of NBA vehicles.

Wilkinson with the 1979-1980 Flyers

As a freelance artist David was able to bring his career full circle when almost by accident he developed his current sports art style. As he continued to refine his technique, he thought this medium may get his foot in the door with the Flyers.

Upon hearing the news of the team’s decision to induct Ron Hextall into their Hall Of Fame, David created his “Hextall Scores” image. Through a lot of perserveriance he managed to get it in front of the right people within the organization which led to one of Dave’s proudest professional moments. The team invited him to the game to present his first muse, none other than Ron Hextall himself, with a copy of his painting prior to the ceremony amongst his friends, family and former teammates.

DW: I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it was to be even just a small part of what has to be one of the proudest nights in the career of someone who I idolized so greatly.

For many of us, this encounter alone would be enough to inspire boasting, but Wilkinson’s brush with the Flyers was far from over.

Through a mutual friend, Wilkinson was introduced to Riley Cote. Over dinner David shared some of his caricature work he created of Bernie Parent and teammate Danny Briere. Riley instantly commissioned David to create one of him as a player and eventually as the Phantom’s assistant coach for his web site www.rileycote.com. The two remain friends and have continued their creative collaboration to this day.

All these events have endowed David with a well earned legitimacy as a serious sports artist which led to Brian Propp of all people sitting at Wilkinson’s kitchen table.

Having seen David’s work though social media, Brian decided he wanted a portrait done to utilize as a marketing / merchandising tool and a meeting was set up. As the two sat down to discuss, Brian brought a few possible images to depict and asked Dave’s opinion. One of the images was of his iconic third-period, game-tying score during Game 6 of the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals.

DW: In my mind there was absolutely no question that this was the image we should do. It is one of the greatest goals in both his career and Flyer’s history.

Wilkinson was suddenly living out many of our dreams, discussing not only the project at hand but also his career, the ’87 Finals and glory days of the franchise in general.

DW: Once again, I felt like the luckiest fan in the world not only to have Brian sitting at my kitchen table but to have him asking me to depict such an important moment in his career.

The two have keep in touch and remain friendly, the culmination of their came when Propp invited Wilkinson to attend Game 6 of the 2010 Finals. Dave was lucky enough to find out first hand that a player he idolized as a youth is as humble and generous as he was great on the ice. Propp, who played here from 1979-90, has also been instrumental in expanding Wilkinson’s Flyers networking by introducing him to some of the other recognizable names in club annals.

But enough of my yakkin’. Make sure you see Wilkinson’s work for yourself. Check out at his website www.davidewilkinson.com, where you can browse or even buy some of his work. Please also be sure to “like” his official Facebook page “The Wilkinson Gallery” and follow him on Twitter @davidewilkinson. You’ll find that Dave is not only extremely talented but a good, down to earth guy as well.

He is one of us and someone we can be proud to call one of the Flyers Faithful.

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