Originally created 04/11/98

Details crucial to artist

It's the details that catch Tony Rafty's 82-year-old eye.

They always have.

That, he says, is what makes his caricatures so special.

That, and the autographs -- from golfers such as Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods -- scribbled on his works by the subjects.

Of more than 300 drawings he's produced in his career -- caricatures of politicians, of entertainers, of Olympians and other sports stars -- almost 95 percent are autographed, creating a valuable and unique collection.

He's trying to track down Cory Pavin at this year's Masters Tournament. There's a picture waiting to have the golfer's name on it.

Mr. Rafty got his start drawing caricatures while he caddied in his native Australia as a teen-ager, trying to help his family through the Depression.

Since then, he worked as a war artist in World War I and the Indonesian war of independence, drew for The Sydney Sun newspaper for 40 years, sketched Olympians every time the Games were held, from 1948 through Atlanta. He's been awarded the Order of Australia Medal and the Greek Gold Cross of Mount Athos for his work. His caricatures have been put on postage stamps.

But his favorite subjects remain golfers.

"I think golf has been brilliant to me since my days as a caddy," he says. "Golfers are great sportsmen. There's a lot of principle and honesty involved, while they're trying to make a little ball go in a hole with less hits."

Mr. Rafty tries to draw from life, not photos, even if he only has a few minutes with his subject. Drawing from photos is the perfect way to end up with a flat, lifeless caricature, or a drawing that exaggerates a subject to ridiculousness, he says.

"I try to notice clothes, shoes, the way people stand," he says. "If you look at my drawings, I hope to capture the spirit. A caricature is meant to be exaggerated to a certain extent, but if it's too much, you lose the likeness. It all has to do with seeing the person."

That's how he ends up with caricatures of Lee Trevino bounding wildly across the golf course or John Daly in comic striped shorts when the golfer played in sweltering Queensland. Or drawings of Arnold Palmer, teeing out of a tree, warning the koalas to "Stop laughing, this is serious."

Working on his subjects in person can also lead to unexpected friendships. While sitting for a caricature in Australia in 1939, American golfer George Zaharias asked Mr. Rafty where to find a good Greek meal. So Mr. Rafty took Mr. Zaharias and his wife, golfing great Babe Didrickson, home to meet Mr. Rafty's parents -- who happened to be Greek immigrants.

While the couple was visiting, Ms. Didrickson read the palms of Mr. Rafty and his brother before drawing Mr. Rafty aside.

"I didn't tell him, but there is tragedy in your brother's life," she warned Mr. Rafty.

Two years later, his brother was captured by the Japanese while fighting in World War II and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. He never returned home.

Ms. Didrickson's prophecy for Mr. Rafty was considerably happier:

"She said `Give me your hand, Tony,"' he recalls. "And she took my hand and read it, and she told me I would have a long life, a break in health, and that I was going to be famous. I had malaria as a war artist, so that was the break in my health. And I have lived a long life.

"So I guess she was right."


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