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Have you ever been at a Michigan game or watched from the comfort of your own home and marveled at those fantastic gleaming football helmets? The unique design, the colors, the shapes of the wings?
Well, there was an artist behind these creations. Russ Hawkins is his name and he painted Michigan helmets for more than 50 years.
The relationship began when coach Bo Schembechler and equipment manager Jon Falk began working with Capital Varsity, a helmet re-conditioner. Russ Hawkins is the artist who hand-painted Michigan helmets for Capital Varsity. Every year, after the spring game, Michigan sent helmets to Capital for re-conditioning. Here, the helmets were disassembled and the canvas prepared for the next season’s creations.
How did he do it?
Russ started with a yellow molded helmet shell. He then painted the entire helmet our beloved Michigan maize. From there, he took thin line tape and molded the wings and stripes. This was done with precision and no stencils. He formed the tape with his eye to create those famous designs so recognizable by fans everywhere. Then, he followed with darker-than-navy blue to cover the entire helmet. All the paint was hand-mixed.
Finally, the tape was removed to reveal the winged design dating back to 1938.
So, whenever you think of Michigan helmets from the last 40 years, you can think of Russ Hawkins, the Leonardo da Vinci of college football.