Carl Eller rose to Pro Football Hall of Fame prominence during his 15 seasons (1964-78) with the Minnesota Vikings, during which he was a six-time Pro Bowl player and played in all four of the franchise’s Super Bowl appearances.
These days, Eller isn’t firing off the line of scrimmage, but he is firing up the kiln for his pieces of pottery. About a dozen of those works will be displayed in a case at the new U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s an exciting project. The project will actually be called lakes,” Eller said Tuesday while holding some examples of his artwork in the Vikings’ Winter Park lobby. “I need to write a little piece about that. Lakes are an important part of Minnesota, everything Minnesota. It’s a place to go and meditate and think and enjoy, so lakes are really important.
“The greatest thing is that it’s going to go in the stadium so there’s a continuity between my days as a Viking and kind of the future. This is something that will be there a long time, so that’s where the honor is.”
Eller’s artwork was commissioned for the stadium last fall, and former defensive linemate Jim Marshall and linebacker Matt Blair joined him as artists whose work will be displayed in the new stadium.
While Eller concentrates on pottery, Blair is best known artistically for his love of photography.
“My teammate was Fred McNeill, and I started taking pictures of him when he was sleeping and all the other guys had fun at the time after lunch or whenever,” Blair said. “The best time was after lunch when we had rest for at least a couple hours before we had to practice again. Coach Bud Grant was out bocche-balling and I said, ‘No way!’ So I went out and took pictures of him.”
Blair’s love for looking at life through the lens started when he bought a camera as a rookie in 1974, then took a vacation to Europe in which he put his off-field passion into practice.
“When I came back, people said, ‘Man, those are good.’ And I said, “Really? They’re really good?’” Blair recalled.
From there, the camera followed him on numerous trips as a Viking. He took pictures at the stadium, in the locker room and on the plane en route to road games.
“Taking pictures was just awesome to do and throughout the world I took so many pictures and I became a better photographer,” he said.
Eller initially grew interested in the principles of art when he was in high school and college learning how to draft. He was drawn to pottery eight or nine years ago “because it’s an old art,” he said.
“I like the masters because they are very easy to understand. You see what you get and they go into such detail,” he said. “I think, as an observer, you don’t see or you don’t understand the detail. So with any piece of work or any piece of art, it’s a labor of love. It’s a labor – the hours, the time, the thought – all of that that goes into it, once it’s done that’s what you’re trying to communicate. If I look at a Rembrandt, it’s not just the art, it’s appreciating what he was trying to do or say.”
Eller realizes that fans might be surprised to see a player like him, who holds the franchise record with 130 sacks and is second in team history with sacks in eight straight games, has an interest in art. But, he said, fans don’t often see the men away from the game.
“I think that we don’t understand or appreciate athletes or guys outside of the football, so I see that this would probably surprise most people. But I’m not unique among Vikings or other athletes,” he said.
“If there’s a principle in football (that applies to art) it would probably be perfection because you have to keep going until you get what you want. If it doesn’t at first work, you have to keep working at it.”
Blair was recognized for his photography skills outside of football when he was on a charity trip to Haiti following that country’s devastating earthquake six years ago. While it was raining during most of Blair’s trip there, the sun appeared on the final day and Blair saw a cross to mark the burial ground for those who perished in the natural disaster.
“The last day the sun came up on this cross where all the bodies were buried and I couldn’t believe that I was taking a picture of that at that time because God gave me that opportunity,” he said.
Eller, Blair and Marshall are part of 36 local artists and 44 total artists whose works will be displayed in U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, which is scheduled to open in July.