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legendary players like Satchel Paige

Jul 11, 2010

Posted Jul 04, 2010 @ 10:18 AM
BOSTON —Until 1947, America's National Pastime denied admission to some of the greatest baseball players in the country.
For decades, legendary players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and James "Cool Papa" Bell thrilled fans and filled stadiums in the Negro Baseball Leagues, which gave blacks athletic and social opportunities denied to them by institutionalized racism in the white major leagues.
Sixty-three years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Paige, Gibson and Cool Papa are back on the diamond in "Shades of Greatness," an inspirational and informative exhibit in Gallery 360 at Northeastern University in Boston.
Organized by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum of Kansas City, Mo., it showcases 35 original works of art that bring alive an overlooked chapter of American history.
Atop the mound, the ageless Paige hurls his signature "hesitation pitch" in Steve Musgrave's monumental oil painting. In Steve Wilson's photos, a robust 92-year-old John "Buck" O'Neil grips a bat like he's ready to swing for the fences.
Admiring youngsters surround star pitcher Willie Foster who carries his fame with regal dignity in Kadir Nelson's oil on canvas. In Kevin Hosley's double-exposed Giclee print "Someday," a young batter, superimposed over a scoreboard, looks steadily ahead as if glimpsing his dreams.
Subtitled "Art Inspired by Negro Leagues Baseball," this free exhibit runs through July 23.
The show's curator, Dr. Raymond Doswell, said he organized the traveling exhibit to provide viewers "with different ways to interpret history."
Since prior shows focused on former players' portraits, he "hoped to raise the bar" by crafting an exhibit that used high quality art to explore the Negro Leagues' social and economic impact on their era.
"I was trying to avoid creating art that looked like big baseball cards. In the past, that kind of art looked nice but didn't advance the story," said Doswell, NLBM's vice-president of curatorial services. "I felt we could use art to teach about the Negro Leagues' influence on entrepreneurship, civil rights and the fight against racism."
His 2003 call for artists interested in the exhibit brought responses from 28 local and national artists who were evenly divided between African-American artists and artists and illustrators who worked at Hallmark Cards Inc. in Kansas City.
Doswell used museum resources to give the artists a "detailed orientation" in Negro Leagues history and its impact on black life.
He believes the rich and varied art they created for the exhibit reflects the museum's core mission to "preserve, research and disseminate the history of African-American baseball."
"Those ballplayers thrived without support from the mainstream. Their talent won out over racism," said Doswell. "When people see this show, I think the art moves them to learn more about this subject."
Donnie Perkins, dean and director of Northeastern's Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, said he brought the exhibit to the Northeastern community and Boston because it exposes a part of American history.
"One of the things we're hoping for is to share a piece of American history that simultaneously reveals a time of pain and celebration," he said.
While depicting the athletic exploits of Negro Leagues players, the exhibit successfully evokes the ballpark's atmosphere and the way players and teams boosted their fans' pride and the economy of communities that hosted them.
Robert Hurst's acrylic painting "His Team" suggests how black businesses benefited from endorsements from hometown favorites. In her charming painting "Catch Me a Ball Player," Bonnye Brown depicts four fashionably dressed black women flirting with the stars in the dugout. And Keith Shepherd's large vibrant oil painting captures the exuberance of a black crowd wearing their "Sunday Best" cheering their local heroes.
"Shades of Greatness" doesn't shy away from the racism that kept the major leagues segregated until Robinson broke the six-decade-long "color line" on April 15, 1947, when he made his major league debut in Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Several paintings depict the "colored" facilities or sections designated for black players and fans. Larry Welo's etching "Fences" reminds viewers of the social barriers that separated black players from the opportunities available to their white counterparts.
Perhaps the most dramatic work, Cortney Wall's installation, "The Same Game," depicts racism's corrosive impact as two chairs bound together, separately labeled "White" and "Colored." The "White" chair bears the image of Ty Cobb, an extraordinary player and notorious racist, while the "Colored" chair bears the image of Robinson whose exemplary play and character paved the way for minority players.
Perkins said his office brought "Shades of Greatness" to Northeastern as "an educational, artistic and cultural event to promote cultural diversity" in a city that's been torn by racial conflicts.
Both he and Doswell noted the Boston Red Sox were the last major league club to integrate when they hired Elijah "Pumpsie" Green in 1959.
Perkins praised "Shades of Greatness" as "history that creates a thirst to know more."
"By sharing this exhibit with the community, we're saying, 'We're better than those times,"' he said. "We want all people to be equal participants with the knowledge that that happened in the past."
"Shades of Greatness," which opened with support from the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Foundation, is in Gallery 360 on the second floor of the Curry Student Center of Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Avenue.
The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
On Wednesday, July 14, former players Mahlon Duckett and Stanley "Doc" Glenn will discuss their careers with the Philadelphia Stars at 11:30 a.m. in the Ballroom in the Curry Student Center.
Starting as an infielder at the age of 17, Duckett was Negro National League Rookie of the Year in 1940. A catcher, Glenn caught for Satchel Paige on several occasions.
On Thursday, July 22, the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a new series of stamps honoring Negro Leagues Baseball at 1 p.m. in the Indoor Quad of the Curry Student Center.