by Will Beekman || AHL On The Beat Archive
Ken Frantz grew up around Wilkes-Barre, and he still resides in the area today. In between now and then, he has had a few detours – the odd job here and there, some time spent in Germany during World War II – but wherever he has gone, his artistic abilities have gone with him.
Presently, those talents are focused on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, with whom he has mixed his passions for hockey and paints. But that’s for later in the story.
Oddly enough, his artistic side revealed itself outside the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport – long before they remodeled it and way before the Penguins flew into town.
At the age of 6, Frantz spent his summer sitting outside, watching the planes take flight and capturing the images with a pencil and paper. That was when he first realized his talent.
“I started doing artwork when I was in first grade,” Frantz reminisced. “My parents used to take me to the Avoca Airport in the summer. Then when I got into first grade, the first thing the teacher wanted us to do was a project showing what we did over the summer. I drew her an airplane, the airport, the whole thing, and she thought I must have had some formal training, but I had none.”
There aren’t too many first-graders who have formal training in anything. But Frantz didn’t need it. There are certain things that each of us is meant to do in life. Some of us recognize those talents, and they become a part of our daily lives.
Frantz recognized his at an early age.
In the beginning, it gave him a hobby, but eventually it gave him a life. His schooling, his jobs and all of his downtime revolved around his ability to draw and paint.
He took that ability everywhere he went – even into the service. As a private in the Army, Frantz was flown to Germany, where he did paintings as favors for his superiors, laid out newspapers and took to the skies to survey and draw maps of the enemy’s territory.
When he returned to Northeastern Pennsylvania, he discovered a new passion.
“When my parents got their first black-and-white TV back in the ‘50s, all I would watch were the first six NHL teams,” Frantz said. "I have always been into sports, but never really did anything with it, until the Penguins came to town.”
Much like the team did to the entire area, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins breathed new life into Frantz and his love for painting.
“I let it go the first year,” he admitted, “because I was one of the doubters. I saw so many pro sports come through the area, and nothing ever really picked up. Then I saw it pick up with the Penguins. By the second season, I started to get into it. The only problem was I didn’t have much money in those days.”
Frantz spent 25 years as an art director for Suburban Publishers, but the company went bankrupt in 1991.
“The company went down, and I went down with it,” he said. “I tried my best to keep them going and I ended up missing out on the computer age. I’m into it now, but it’s a little too late for me.”
That stroke of bad luck had Frantz struggling to find companies who had a need for somebody with a paint brush. Financially, it made for some rough times, and those times were still going when the Penguins moved into the area. It wasn’t easy to pay for the tickets, but Frantz slowly started to get hooked on Penguins hockey.
At the same time that the Penguins started to gain speed in the area, the NHL started coming out with their McFarlane Figurines. Frantz, a huge Patrick Roy fan, was quick to purchase the great goalie’s figurine. And then he had an idea.
He went out, picked up a couple of Eric Lindros figures, grabbed some black and gold paint, splashed it on Lindros and quickly transformed the figure of the Flyers forward into Dennis Bonvie.
“I made [Bonvie] out of a Lindros figure, because they were both right-handed,” chuckled Frantz. “What else do you need?”
To make ends meet, Frantz worked four hours a day as a screen printer. In his down time, he started transforming more McFarlane figures into Penguins. Mark Messier in an Edmonton Oilers jersey soon became Tom Kostopoulos in a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Christmas Jersey. And it took off from there.
As of today, Frantz has done a figurine to represent every jersey ever worn by the Penguins. Each figure takes about two weeks to complete, and they are done in impressive fashion. Right down to the finest detail, Frantz doesn’t miss a stroke. The name and numbers look perfect, and the patches are done with great precision.
In order to insure that the finest details are kept in place, Frantz actually paints parts of each figure with a brush containing only one bristle.
To see a picture is one thing. To see them in person is another. Frantz, who is currently working on a Nolan Schaefer figure and another depicting the team’s 2007 Skills Competition jersey, is starting to run out of places to keep all of his creations. But he has a future plan for all of them.
“If anything ever happens to me,” Frantz said, “I already told (team president) Rich (Hixon) that I want the Penguins to have everything.”
In recognition of his talents and efforts, the Pens have recruited Frantz for a special project for Awards Night, this Sunday, Apr. 15. No further information is being disclosed at this time, but to Frantz, this creation is the thrill of a lifetime.
“This is such a special project and I am so happy to be called in to work on something for the Penguins,” Frantz said. “I think it’s the greatest thing in the world. I bet you my heart jumped out of my chest when I was asked to do this.”
For Frantz, it’s another reason to do what he loves. For the Penguins, it’s a chance to say thank you to a great talent and huge fan.