Commemorative sports works can be found in homes of NHL greats, at Smithsonian
(via NHL.com by William Douglas)
William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined NHL.com in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he profiles Tim Cortes, a former University of Minnesota goalie who has become a successful commemorative artist.
Tim Cortes half-jokingly says he owes retired NHL goalies Robb Stauber and John Blue for his career.
Cortes was a backup goalie at the University of Minnesota in 1986-87 behind Stauber and Blue and never saw a whiff of action in an NCAA Division I game that season.
“I always tease that there were three of us,” Cortes said. “Two of us ended up in the NHL and one of us ended up in art school.”
The 57-year-old Duluth, Minnesota, native swapped his goalie sticks for pencils and paintbrushes and embarked on what has become a successful career as a commemorative artist.
His sports-themed works can be found at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington; inside Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins; on the exterior of the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center; and in the homes of several retired NHL players and their families.
The list of owners of some of of Cortes’ illustrations reads like a hockey’s “Who’s Who,” including Brett Hull, Mark Howe, Phil Housley, Pat LaFontaine, Chris Chelios, Mike Modano, Neal Broten, Tom Chorske and Stauber.
“Actually, my plan was to go into graphic design because it was just at the time when computer graphics was starting to take over in the late 80s, early 90s,” Cortes said. “This thing with fine art and doing portraits was working, so I just ran with it and, truthfully, for 35 years I’ve never been without work.”
Cortes, who is Filipino American, grew up passionate about hockey and drawing. He said when he and his siblings would visit their grandmother, they would be in one corner playing and he would be in another with paints and crayons.
He played hockey at Duluth East High School and then for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League, where he went 10-6-0 with a 4.01 goals-against average and .888 save percentage in 21 games in 1985-86.
Then it was off to the University of Minnesota, where he spent more time wearing a baseball cap than a goalie mask in 1986-87, when Blue played in 33 games and Stauber 20.
That persuaded Cortes to enroll in the Minneapolis College of Art Design. He had twinges of regret after Stauber, a sixth-round pick (No. 107) in the 1986 NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, left Minnesota to join the Kings in 1989-90. Blue, a 10th-round pick (No. 197) by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1986 draft, went pro the following season.
“I would have been right there, that place (in goal) would have been set for me,” Cortes said with a laugh. “And I was toiling away at art school.”
But the regrets faded when work began coming in. Cortes began illustrating mostly what he knew best: hockey. His illustrations were quickly noticed by friends and entities within Minnesota’s close-knit hockey community.
Chorske, who played for seven NHL teams and won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, commissioned Cortes a portrait that still hangs in the basement of his Minneapolis home.
“His work speaks for itself,” said Chorske, who had 237 points (115 goals, 122 assists) in 596 NHL games from 1989-2000. “He’s got some real talent and then you mix in that he was a hockey player, a longtime coach, just kind of understands people really well and he just gets it.”
Cortes hasn’t limited himself to hockey. He’s done commission pieces for the Twins Championship Club at Target Field, for the NFL, Notre Dame University football, the University of Texas and the family of the late NFL great Reggie White.
One of the pieces he’s most proud of commemorates the 30th anniversary of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon that was part of a display at the Smithsonian.
“It’s pretty cool,” Cortes said. “The Smithsonian people said, ‘We’re planning an exhibit on North American dog sled racing, and we’d love for this to be in there as a back piece in the display.'”
Cortes’ love of hockey and art will converge when he opens a 1,000-square-foot gallery in November inside the Heritage Center, a two-rink complex that houses Duluth’s high school and amateur hockey programs.
When Cortes isn’t in the gallery, he’ll be at center ice as a goalie coach for Stella Maris Academy High School in Duluth this season. He served as goalie coach for the College of St. Scholastica’s NCAA Division III women’s team last season and at the University of Minnesota-Duluth from 2002-04 and as an assistant coach at Duluth East from 2015-18.
“It is absolutely a God-given dream come true,” he said. “I’m going to have a locker room right below my feet where I’m going to have my goalie skates, my coaching equipment, it’s crazy. For all you goalie coach-artists out there, I’m living the dream.”