This interview/profile was contributed by Jason A. Schwartz of SABR Chicago
I first met Mike Noren, the man behind the Gummy Arts brand, just over a year ago in Cooperstown, New York. I was in town for the opening of the baseball card-themed “Shoebox Treasures” exhibit, and Mike was too. I was there as a card collector and baseball fan. Mike could check off those same two boxes, but he had another. His work was on the walls.
Anyone who follows Mike on social media is accustomed to his daily posting of whimsical trading card creations, many of which extend beyond baseball into other sports, music, or pop culture. Attendees of the SABR Black Sox Centennial Symposium in 2019 might even have some of Mike’s cards in their collections.
Or Bert Blyleven, in the unlikely event you’re reading this piece (hello!), you definitely are the proud owner of a Gummy Arts creation!
While Mike has been creating his Gummy Arts trading cards for more than four years and selling prints for almost as long, I’d noticed about a month ago that Mike had begun selling his original artwork. This seemed as good an excuse as any to catch up with Mr. Noren, who I can absolutely say is as gracious as he is talented.
Q: How long have you been creating your own baseball cards and about how many different ones have you made?
I started drawing baseball cards in early 2016. I launched a Tumblr gallery called “Cecil Cooperstown,” which, originally, was dedicated to drawings of great ball players who’d narrowly missed the Hall of Fame. Over time, I’ve expanded beyond that concept, making cards for all types of athletes, bands, film characters, historical figures, and so on— but the Cecil Cooperstown gallery still exists, and I do still add to it. I have no idea how many cards I’ve drawn—must be in the thousands at this point.
Q: Some of your originals have hit eBay lately. Is this something very new you’re doing, or have you sold your originals in the past also?
A: This is pretty new. In the past, when I’ve had time, I’ve done some commissions, but I’ve mostly kept all the cards that I’ve drawn. This year, I’ve been trying to make the transition from art as a hobby to art as my job— so selling originals has helped keep things rolling… [Author’s note: Mike is off to a great start!]
Q: When you sell an original, can the prints still make it into packs or are they retired?
A: I generally don’t auction off cards that I intend to print in subsequent card packs, but I don’t have an official rule to that effect.
Q: You recently sent the original artwork for your 9-card 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates all-Black lineup with all proceeds benefiting the Black Lives Matter Global Network. What inspired you to put this particular set, which sold for $575, up for auction?
A: The killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests led me to think about how I might be able to contribute. That Pirates set celebrates the achievements of some incredible black players.
Q: I understand that the winning bidder then turned around and donated the set to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. What would it mean to you have those cards on display at the Museum or the neighboring Buck O’Neil Education Center?
A: I was really happy to hear that the buyer was donating the set to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I’d be honored if the cards were ever displayed in the museum or in the Buck O’Neil Center, but I’m also aware that there’s so much more important art and history to display and only a limited amount of space. Just knowing the cards are in that collection means a lot.
Q: Now speaking of high-profile baseball museums, you already have some of your work on display in Cooperstown. Tell me how that happened.
A: A curator from the Hall of Fame contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to donate a few cards for the exhibit. I was thrilled by the opportunity to have my drawings displayed at the Hall of Fame, and I told them they could have whichever ones they wanted. Over the next couple days, they looked through my Instagram and gave me a list. I think they wanted one card that was no longer in my possession, but their other choices were Ted Kluszewski, Jack Pfiester, JoJo D’Angelo, and Jimmy Rollins. I was happy they chose cards that represented a variety of eras and styles. I also love that their selections were all non-HoFers— so, in effect, I got some of my “Cecil Cooperstown” members onto the walls of Cooperstown.
Q: When you got the call from Cooperstown, was there a part of you that wondered if it wasn’t just a friend of yours playing a joke on you?
A: The offer to have my drawings included in the Hall of Fame seemed almost too good to be true, and I did wonder for a moment whether it was all just an elaborate prank by my friends. Fortunately, it was real, and having my cards included in that exhibit is a definite high point of my life as an artist, card collector, and baseball fan. I’m so eager to visit Cooperstown again once it’s safe to do so.
Q: Wrapping up, I know you’re a huge Cubs fan. Who are your favorite Cubs from back when you were a kid?
A: My favorite Cub as a kid was probably either Rick Reuschel or Dave Kingman.
Q: And from the current squad?
A: Probably Javy Baez.