Sam Bass: Passing Along Creativity
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
- Pablo Picasso
Sam Bass has been able to solve that problem in his own life. For 47 years – ever since he attended his first race and got his first comic book – he’s been inspired to create. As is well known here in Cabarrus County, that artwork has reflected all that was/is NASCAR. What may not be as well known is Bass’ love of comics, music and Christmas.
“When I was seven, my parents divorced and I moved in with my aunt and uncle,” Bass says. “Christmas cards, limited-edition prints and posters, and the Santa and Snowmen Collection all stem from my early childhood. When my parents divorced, I drew my gifts; we had no money. I’ve designed Christmas things every year since with friends and family.
“I call my Christmas illustration work my hotel art because I can work on it in the hotels while I travel. At the end of the year, I take the best seven or eight I’ve done and turn them into cards.”
As NASCAR’s first officially licensed artist, Bass’ travel refers to the miles he puts in during the race season. “In an average year, I take in about 18 races…as many as 26 in one year. That’s where I draw my inspiration from. Nothing thrills me more than to go to a race track and be surrounded by fans, do signings for corporate sponsors…I did three for UAW/GM in Martinsville.”
And now the public can become more familiar with all aspects of Bass’ artistic life in his new location on Highway 29 in Concord, not too far north from his former gallery. Rebranded and named Sam
Bass Art Studios, walking in is like entering another world. Even with about 30 percent of his work not on display the day we met, the intimate new space is packed with his art and memorabilia.
“We’ve been so involved this year with the move: plan the move, do the move. We were in the other building for 16 1/2 years and I cannot believe how much stuff we accumulated,” he says. “The overall footprint of the building is about 3,000 square feet smaller than the old building but the gallery is bigger and the ceilings are higher.”
Another difference is the brightness; black was the “it” backdrop color when Bass opened his gallery on Morehead in 2000. “When we moved here I wanted everything as white as white could be. The thing that’s so gratifying is that visitors have been commenting on that,” he says.
What repeat visitors will also notice is that the items aren’t displayed by category, as they were in the old space, and that’s been done on purpose. “There are a lot more guitars than in the old gallery, a lot more Christmas art, superhero themes, a lot more musical emphasis in the main gallery,” Bass explains.
The flurry of activity Bass and his staff have endured the past year was set in motion by Bass’ health; he’s had three bouts of sepsis in as many years. Living with Type 1 diabetes for more than two decades, he nearly didn’t make it through these life-threatening blood infections. It took a toll and resulted in his need to sell his old gallery building; he’d originally hoped to downsize but remain there.
But Bass looks at the fact that he was able to find a good space in a building owned by friend and NHRA driver, Doug Herbert, as a blessing. It’s set wheels in motion that Bass hopes will mean new endeavors in 2017.
One of those endeavors revolves around a special young woman in Bass’ life: Sierra, who has
cerebral palsy. “It all came from an appearance, a Q&A,” Bass says. “In the distance I saw Sierra and her family under the only piece of shade. I made a mental note that when I was done I needed to go over and meet them. I went over and talked to this little girl and when I was leaving I asked her if she had a cell phone, to just text me anytime. We have so many conversations. It’s like this girl has this uncanny ability to know when I need a pick-me-up. By the same token, she has really enjoyed getting behind the scenes of my travel and work.”
Sierra and her family live in Nashville, TN, a city Bass visits quite often. During one of their conversations, Sierra told Bass that her mom wanted to cook him lunch. “When I got there, her grandparents were there, her sisters...I had the best time with them,” Bass recalls. “Her dad came out when I was leaving and thanked me for saving his daughter’s life; they were really concerned about her. Her sisters were growing up and going to college, and Sierra got very depressed. Her dad said, ‘Since she met you, she’s gotten so happy and excited about things.’ It makes you appreciate just how far kindness goes in life.”
Sierra and her family came to Concord for the gallery’s grand opening on October 5. During the all-day festivities, a section of the gallery was unveiled: Sierra’s Corner. It’s the beginning of what Bass hopes will be more undertakings with children – like art classes.
“I’m looking to get into a lot of other things,” he says. “I really want to offer classes for special needs kids; it will definitely come next year. That’s one of the things that’s so great about what I do. Every kid has probably picked up a crayon or a pencil, so the kids can relate to me with what I do. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to go about doing it, but we’re really working on it.”
Another idea taking shape in Bass’ mind is a restaurant. “The restaurant is a fluid, developing plan,” he shares. “I love to cook, I love restaurants, it’s one of my passions. One of the areas in this gallery is Tune-Ups Bar & Grille, and my dream is to one day open a simple bar and grill. With the area that’s developing around the gallery and studio here, I’m hoping we can do something here or across the street in a strip mall.”
Bass extends an open invitation for the community to come check out his new location. You’ll be greeted by a smiling man whose eyes crinkle up and almost disappear in the grin. He’s got a lot to smile about and is thankful that he’s here to continue his adventures.
Story by: Kim Cassell
Photos Courtesy: Michael A. Anderson Photography