Acrylic, spray and oil on 24″ x 24″ wood
If you were a fan of wrestling in the 1960’s, Wilbur Snyder’s face is very familiar to you. Born in 1929 California, Snyder was a gifted football player in high school and later for the University of Utah. He went pro as a footballer for the Los Angeles Rams and the Edmonton Eskimos. During the off-season he began wrestling professionally, and soon transitioned into that as at the time the pay was much better. By 1954 he was wrestling full time in California against the likes of Lou Thesz, and by 1956 had moved to Chicago where he defeated Verne Gagne in a major upset for the National Wrestling Alliance US Title, which Gagne had held since 1951. Snyder ultimately lost the title to Dick the Bruiser the next year, igniting a feud that would take both from one coast to another. On November 15, 1958 Snyder won the disputed version of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Gagne in Omaha, NE, later losing it to the Bruiser, regaining and ultimately losing it to Dr. X.
After notable feuds with Bruiser and Mitsu Arakawa, Snyder and Bruiser opened their own promotion in Indianapolis, IN, the World Wrestling Association. This was an offshoot of the Los Angeles-based organization of the same name, where Dick the Bruiser was their world champion. Even after Bruiser lost the title in LA, he continued to be recognized as champion in Indiana. Snyder defeated Arakawa for the WWA World Title in 1967, holding it for two years. During this period he also made several successful trips to Japan, winning the NWA International Tag Team Championships with Danny Hodge.
Snyder is remembered by his peers both for his in-ring scientific abilities and for the time several high-flying maneuvers, as well as for being credited as the man who invented the abdominal stretch. He is often labeled as “The World’s Most Scientific Wrestler.” Wilbur Snyder passed away on Christmas day 1991, just eight days after his long-time rival and business partner Dick the Bruiser had passed.
About the piece: I went a little more conceptual on this one than normal, to continue to push myself from any comfort zone I may have artistically. I first applied layers of spray paint, acrylic and oil on the background. When that dried, I came in with black and white for the figure, letting the background elements become the mid-tones between the white and black.
Wilbur was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling wing of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2014. While there for the festivities, and for which I made this piece for their permanent collection, several of the attendees made a point of letting me know how much they enjoyed these, including Thesz’s widow. It’s always awesome to get reactions from the fans, but it’s doubly great to get those reactions from those who knew them personally.