At Hallmark, Shannon Manning was the go-to guy who could get three chickens to kick like can-can dancers on the front of a greeting card.
He demonstrated this particular artistry recently by pulling a tab on the front of a prototype for such a card in his home studio. Sure enough, three paper chicken legs sprung into action.
But Manning’s lasting legacy is a creation that is divinely simple and ubiquitous throughout Kansas City: the Royals’ team logo.
When Danny Duffy throws the first pitch on opening day at Kauffman Stadium Thursday, Manning, who created the logo 50 years ago, will be sitting in the Buck O’Neil Legacy seat, with his wife, Judy, and children around him.
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Now retired, Manning, who graduated from the prestigious Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis after a stint in the U.S. Navy, gave a tour of the art studio in his Lenexa home on Wednesday. He recalled how his design for the logo came to be.
“The Royals had just come to town and didn’t even have offices yet,” said Manning, 83, while flipping through a 1969 Royals game program. “Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, the owners, and Cedric Tallis, the general manager, came to Hallmark and said, ‘We’re brand new and don’t have any design people. You have a design staff. Would you help us create a new logo?'”
It was the second contest that the Kauffmans held in creating the Royals brand.
After Major League Baseball granted Kansas City one of its four expansion teams to begin play in 1969, the Kauffmans held a contest to name it. They received more than 17,000 entries, including one from Sanford Porte, a bridge engineer from Overland Park, who suggested The Royals after the American Royal Livestock Show, which had been held in Kansas City every year since 1899.
Because Hallmark has always been community-minded, Manning says, it agreed to help with the team logo then made a contest out of it, throwing it open to all its artists.
“The criteria were that the logo had to have blue, gold and a crown,” he says. “I always kid that they came to Hallmark because they knew crowns really well.”
Manning and 15 other artists at Hallmark submitted designs for the logo, which would appear on uniforms, jackets, stationery and promotional items.
Some guys took it seriously, others were tongue in cheek, he said, pointing to to a large splotchy looking steer among small reproductions of the other submissions.
According to the 1969 game program, Trudi Ludwig, the only female artist to submit an entry, came up with the psychedelic steer mooing “K.C. Royals.”
"I had just come here from a studio in Chicago, where I’d done a few corporate logos so it was kind of up my alley," Manning says. "Some of these people were illustrators so doing a logo was kind of foreign to them. But these were all talented guys."
The logo, he says, is comprised of a modified home plate that also resembles a shield or banner, topped by a gold crown. His goal, he says, was to create something modern that represented the times.
“And at the time, in the later '60s and early '70s, one of the more popular type styles was what they called 'swash,'" he said, pointing to the "KC" and "R" inside the original logo. "These are modifications of the swash letters. They add a little flair to the image.”
Manning's submission and two others made a first cut in voting, before he was announced the winner. Then it was back to the drawing board to create requested variations of the logo, many of which included adding illustrations inside the R, which were a bit too fussy where Manning is concerned.
“I guess Mrs. Kauffman was a horse lover because she wanted a horse head inside the loop of the R,” Manning recalls. “They didn’t do that."
He pointed to several Royals lapel pins encased in a shadow box: "Could you imagine a horse’s head inside the R reproduced that small?”
As a designer at Hallmark, Manning helped create packaging, cards, ornaments and even toys. He retired in 1997 and now spends his time painting and creating artwork from delicate layers of paper that look like relief sculptures. His work is on display at Gallery V in Overland Park. He plans to conduct a workshop on paper sculpture from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 14, the last day of his exhibit.
The Royals logo has changed a bit over the years, though it retains its original integrity.
The word “Royals” below the primary logo was originally a gold straight-serifed font. It was changed to a blue diagonal script in 1979, similar to the one worn on the Royals home jersey at the time. In 1986, "Royals" was increased in size, so that it was twice as wide as the primary logo above it.
Final modifications came in 2002 when the “R” disappeared inside the home plate of the primary logo, and was replaced with the letters KC in white with a black drop. The shade of blue was also darkened a bit.
Manning didn't make these modifications, but he's OK with them.
His prize possession is a print of the original logo that he sent to the Royals clubhouse with a friend, who left it there with instructions for players to sign it. That was in the 1980s. It came back with signatures from pretty much the entire team, including Frank White, George Brett, Hal McRae, Famous Amos (Otis), Paul Splittorff and Marty Pattin.
The Royals Hall of Fame at Kauffman Stadium has a display devoted to the logo, which features Manning. He was never paid directly for his creation, though he did get tickets to all the Royals games for awhile, and can still call up anytime and get them.
"My payment is seeing people proudly wear that design," he says. "We were at the ballpark once with friends and the lady we were with was very outgoing, and she was so taken by the fact that I had done this. This man and little boy, about 6 or 7 years old was sitting in front of us. She taps them on the shoulder and tells them I designed the logo. They turned back to watch the game, and I heard the little boy turn back to his dad and ask, 'Daddy what did that man do?' And he said, 'Well son, without what he did, your hat would just be blue.' That’s a perfect response.”