I’m now done with my biggest undertaking to date: For the last several months I’ve been working towards a coast-to-coast national tour that would take me and my work across the country! It was a lot of work, the most I’ve ever done, with incredible highs and frustrating lows, but is still my greatest accomplishment.
It began in February when I launched a Kickstarter project to fund the endeavor, where thanks to my amazing backers I was able to raise $7000 in one month! Then came the real work: I had to get nearly 100 paintings done by the end of March! I pretty much lived at my studio, sun-up to sun-down, producing work. But I got it done (mostly) and headed out for my first trip on March 21st for Chicago. On the way I made a detour and stopped at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, where they accepted four of my paintings for their collection!
This was a huge deal for me as an artist. There’s not much better than having your work in a museum, and for me this is a particularly great institution to be included in! I then headed on to Chicago for my show on March 22nd at Challengers Comics. Since I got into town early, I walked around and enjoyed one of my favorite cities, sketching here and there. This one was from the window of my hotel:
Then it was time for the show that evening! The store’s owner Patrick is one of the good people, and is a huge supporter of both comics and wrestling. This was a very fun show for me, because I got to meet a lot of friends I had made online, including Marty DeRosa and one of my art icons Jill Thompson! Jill is best-known in the comics world for her work on The Sandman with Neil Gaiman, and has also illustrated some of Mick Foley’s childrens’ books. Talking art with her for an evening was incredible.
I had to leave at five the next morning to make it to Fort Wayne, IN for the Heroes and Legends FanFest. It was brutal getting up for that, but the drive was beautiful:
The show was a good time and I got to meet some more friends for the first time. It was physically taxing though, because it was in an ice rink and the complex’s management had neglected to turn on the damn heat! It was literally freezing up in there, so after about ten hours I tapped out and tore my display down. Luckily, I guess, because on my way out I sold my Bret Hart portrait!
The drive back home was perilous due to a three-hour whiteout blizzard, but I took my time and made it. Back home, I had to sit down and get to real work, as I had 13 big portraits to get done in two weeks before the next trip! But, I got them done, and on April 3rd I was back on the road to Secaucus, NJ for WrestleCon on WrestleMania weekend! I knew this was going to be my big show, so I had my big display and about sixty paintings with me. The first day of driving got me to Eastern Ohio, and the second day I drove through the rest of Ohio, then into West Virginia, Pennsylvania (this was gorgeous), and on into New York and New Jersey.
About three miles from Secaucus, I was t-boned by a semi truck, demolishing my truck, my display, my prints and all of my paintings. Miraculously, I walked out with literally just one scratch, a testament to how safely vehicles are constructed nowadays. This was the lowest of lows, friends. I didn’t know what to do. I had my suitcase and a four-day reservation at my hotel and no way to do what I’d come there to do. Miraculously, my printers here in Kansas City overnighted all of my prints to me again, so I would have those to show.
It wasn’t my best presentation to be sure, but I was there. Bad things happen to everyone, that doesn’t define us. What defines us is how we pull ourselves back up. So I stood there, shook every hand that came by, and had my best-selling show to date. The compassion from people that I largely only knew online was astonishing as well. A lot of friends were made that weekend.
Including my new topless tag-team partner, Jim the Anvil Neidhart:
On the second day I got to meet another one of my great online friends, Hayley. She’s from Irelend, and we talk most every day online but finally met in person. She actually helped me work the table for the day and having a cute Irish girl helped bring a lot more traffic in than just my ugly mug! Also at the show Bret Hart signed the posters made of my portrait of him! These are available through Highspots.com for less than $40! Get one!
I flew back home the next day, not defeated by the setback and instead strengthened by all of the incredible people I met. Back in town, I got right back to work trying to get some paintings ready for the Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion in Las Vegas the next week.
Since I wasn’t able to drive out to that, I was able to make a stop at my home base Metro Pro Wrestling in Kansas City, Kansas. I show there every month and host the after-party, so everyone there has become like family to me. The next morning I had breakfast with the wife and was back on a plane for Vegas, by way of Minnesota (?), a beautiful flight. I got in Sunday and had dinner and drinks with my brother who lives there, and then it was time to rock!
CAC is an amazing show. It celebrates the entire history of the sport, and is largely only attended by people in the business. I was set up in the Nostalgia Room, that had all of these amazing photographs and show cards on display:
I had always intended for this to be the show where it was more important to meet people than to sell stuff, and luckily it was both. The first morning, I was pleased to discover Nigel McGuinness was at the table next to me. Nigel was instrumental in my early success, so it was great to thank him in person. Les Thatcher was seated with him, and hearing the two dissect wrestling for three days was educational and entertaining as hell. The highlight of Monday was finally meeting my friend AJ Kirsch, a great guy with an even greater mind for the business. We stayed out until about three in the morning and had a great time. Getting to the show at eight in the morning was tough, but so very worth it when Ata Johnson came by my table. She’s a great woman with a lifetime in the business, and you may have heard of her son The Rock. When she saw the print of the portrait I had done of him she was amazed and said she wasn’t walking away without it. Rock was my first favorite wrestler, when I started watching wrestling. To the point that a lot of people still call me The Rob!
While we were talking Ivory came to talk to her, then saw my table and was like, “You’re Rob Schamberger! I was just looking at your work!” Amazing. She was the Womens’ Champion at the time I started watching, and I admired her and her work considerably. That was an awesome fifteen minutes of my life! That day I also got to catch up with Bob Geigel and met his daughter (my mother-in-law’s college roommate!), and also caught up with Jim Ross who has been a great friend with my journey.
Tuesday and Wednesday I also got to talk with Ben from WWE, who is their archivist. He has the coolest job in the world, working in the warehouse. We had fun talking about how he catalogued all of the wrestling bears that there are records of, and the times that the guys would pose with actual lions. It was fun finding someone who is as excited about Georg Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch as I am.
The banquet Wednesday was joyous and emotional, especially with Jake Roberts’ acceptance speech that got a thunderous standing ovation and didn’t leave a dry eye in the place. Adam Pearce’s acceptance of Percy Pringle/Paul Bearer’s award was also touching and very special. There was a very nice moment with Jim Ross presenting Adam ‘Edge’ Copeland’s award to him. The banquet was genuine and real, which made it fascinating to see these wrestlers as just people among their peers.
Thursday, my flight was delayed to the point I wouldn’t have made my connection, so I instead took a flight to Los Angeles. This allowed me to see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in a two week period, a first for me.
And now I’m home. I’m more energized than ever (although I’m sure as hell taking the weekend off!) and excited for what comes next. And there’s some cool stuff coming up next, my friends.