When Jamie Hogaboam wrote to the Winnipeg Jets, he thought he was soliciting help fighting mental illness. Instead, the homeless artist ended up getting a job.
Hogaboam, who hand wrote a letter to the Jets hoping to raise money for a Winnipeg art studio, began a partnership where the team began commissioning his artwork, starting with a picture of Dale Hawerchuk that was unveiled at the Jets Hall of Fame luncheon Wednesday.
"I see myself as a visual historian of the game and of the time in my life where hockey was a matter of life," Hogaboam told NHL.com. "I want to take those players and those teams of my youth and put them on canvas so they can be brought back to life."
Hogaboam was born in La Mesa, California but moved to Winnipeg with his parents at a young age. He has loved art but battled mental illness his whole life, and that has resulted in his homelessness. He lives in the Siloam Mission shelter in Winnipeg, where he runs his own art company called "Hoagie Art," and he can be seen around Winnipeg promoting his paintings on the street, usually accepting a $5 donation for each picture, which is his primary source of income.
"I was determined that if I was going to make it, it was going to be as an artist," Hogaboam said. "It has become my life. It is the only reason I'm still on the earth. It has given me hope, pride and purpose."
Hogaboam has also become an advocate for mental health, and that's how he got the Jets' attention. His letter to the organization asked for financial support for Artbeat Studio, which offers six months of free studio space to artists with mental illness. The studio had begun displaying his work last year and has had a partnership with the Jets for three years, but was struggling to keep its doors open. Jets co-owner Mark Chipman read the note was inspired by Hogaboam's message.
"He wrote me a passionate and articulate letter on the subject of mental health. He referred to his own struggles, but moreso the struggles of others," Chipman told NHL.com. "He's always thinking about other people, which is what drew me to him."
Along with his letter, Hogaboam included a copy of his painting of Winnipeg native and former NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk he titled "Sad Greatness" because of Sawchuk's bouts with mental illness. Chipman saw the Sawchuk picture, then Jets senior director of finance Gavin Johnstone, who is on the board at Artbeat, further vouched for Hogaboam's artistic skill.
"We approached him for some portrait work for our recently created Hall of Fame, and he was up to it as an artist," Chipman said. "Then when I met with him, it became even more obvious that he was the right guy. He has a phenomenal understanding of the Jets and the players; he's a bona fide hockey fan."
Chipman said Hogaboam had a measured excitement after being selected, but Hogaboam remembers feeling differently.
"I was floored," he said. "I was told I have talent, but I don't have a reputation … usually some established artist gets these jobs."
The picture of Hawerchuk is just the beginning for what Hogaboam calls his life-changing moment. They have asked for him to produce three more pictures of their inaugural Hall of Fame class, of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, and will continue to commission his work for Hall of Famers in the future.
The whole experience has given Hogaboam a new outlook on life, and he hopes to pass that confidence and hope to others who battle mental illness.
"I have been told by many people struggling with mental illness and poverty that I'm an inspiration to them," Hogaboam said. "I'm glad I can make a difference in people's lives. It's tough at times to be helpful when I have my struggles, but it also helps me cope because I'm doing a service to the community and trying to make the world a better place."