Archive for Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Art exhibit reminds us why we love sports

February 20, 2008

It often takes a great game to remind me of why I love sports. Sometimes it is a great article. Other times it is just being around an arena before the game and feeling the electricity of an event-the "there is no place I would rather be right now" feeling.

Last week, though, I experienced a first.

An artist reminded me why I love sports; why I waste time watching the games, waste time arguing about the games, and waste my life's work writing about the games.

His exhibit, which I toured on assignment for MLB.com, reminded me what is best about sports-the players, their determination and grit, the hardships they endured to be great. And his exhibit teaches a powerful lesson in history.

Kadir Nelson's "We are the Ship" art exhibit, which is comprised of paintings used to create a book of the same name, is a critically lauded collection that will be on display at the Negro Leagues Museum through April 13. Admission is free. You would do yourself a favor to make the trip to see it.

The pieces bring emotion and power to figures that could be viewed as tragic. Nelson's eight year journey to complete the collection included interviewing former players and gathering all relevant information possible on the league.

The dedication shows. In one painting, Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, sits over a table of money counting his daily take with a cigar in his mouth and glass of scotch nearby. Another depicts Buck O'Neil as a manager for the Kansas City Monarchs, watching his team from the dugout. O'Neil thoughtfully observes the game.

"I wanted to put the audience in the shoes of members of the Negro League," Nelson said. "I wanted to give the idea of what it would have been like to be on deck batting behind Josh Gibson, or on the bus riding to the game, or in Puerto Rico with fans cheering Willard Brown after a game."

John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres, is a big fan of Nelson's. Moores owns several of the artist's pieces and also donated four paintings permanently to the Negro Leagues Museum.

Moores wrote an email that was read during the introduction of the collection at the museum describing the owner escorting O'Neil to his office at Petco Park several years ago. The pair passed several of Nelson's paintings.

"Buck seemed to step back in time when he saw Kadir's extraordinary images of his former teammates and friends," Moores wrote. "It was a special moment for me and, I think, for Buck."

In an attempt to create unique images Nelson suited up in replica jerseys, hit the timer on his camera, and posed as each player in the book. The resulting look on canvas depicts the kind of determination and resolve that Nelson said he was aiming for.

Bob Kendrick, NLBM director of Marketing, walks through the exhibit almost everyday. He said he often tells people this isn't sports art.

"What Kadir has a great ability to do is bring out the spirits of athletes-the pride, the love, the power of the human spirit," Kendrick said.

The name of the exhibit, "We are the Ship," came from Negro Leagues founder Andrew "Rube" Foster, who proclaimed "We are the ship; all else the sea," in 1920 when introducing the league in Kansas City. The title, as the work, pays a great tribute to the past.

Nelson said he loves the story of the Negro Leagues: "It is a great story of never compromising on your dreams and making them come true on your own terms. That is a great lesson for all of us; young and old."

It is a story and a lesson that reminds us why we love sport.

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