June 04, 2003

Baseball at the American Folk Art Museum

American Folk Art Museum
45 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
212/265-1040 ext. 113

The Exhibition The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball

Showcase of Over 100 Objects Inspired by the Game, Including Paintings, Sculpture, Photographs, Textiles, and Arcade Games

The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball, a multi-faceted exhibition that illuminates more than 150 years of America?s favorite pastime, will open at the American Folk Art Museum on June 17, 2003. The exhibition celebrates baseball with over 100 art objects from the 1840s to the present day in a wide variety of media, including portraits, weathervanes, advertising figure, signs, textiles, croquet wickets, carnival figures and arcade games, and examples of baseball ephemera such as score cards and baseball cards. The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball will be on view at the Museum's celebrated architectural landmark at 45 West 53rd Street through February 1, 2004.

"This exhibition wonderfully illustrates the deep impact of baseball on our national consciousness and cultural heritage," says Gerard C. Wertkin, director of the American Folk Art Museum. ?The engaging objects that will be on view document how the game inspired generations of folk artists and entered everyday life in remarkable ways, in the 19th century as well as today.?

"One of the purposes of this exhibition is to introduce baseball fans to the world of folk art, and, in the process, to show that there is another way, beyond relics and collectibles, to look at the history and highlights of their beloved sport," notes Elizabeth V. Warren, exhibition curator. "Likewise, it is hoped that those folk art enthusiasts who are not already enamored of the national pastime will be exposed to a major part of American culture - one of the greatest influences on folk artists of both the past and the present."

Baseball, as we know it today, was not born: it evolved over time from such forebears as rounders, cricket, town ball, old-cat, goal ball, and, finally, the version closest to what is played today, the New York Game. Among the earliest mentions of an organized baseball sporting event were those appearing in two New York City newspapers on April 25, 1823. While no one knows exactly what the rules were at that time, by the mid-1840s the regulations had been written down and codified by Alexander Cartwright and other members of the New York Knickerbockers.

Baseball's origins in the English games of cricket and rounders are reflected in the exhibition in an 1844 portrait of a "Boy with Ball and Bat" and the 1855 "Ball Family Register" showing children engaged in a ball game, a witty play on the family name. The earliest known watercolor of baseball, the "Liberty Nine of New Brunswick, New Jersey Playing the Baltics of Brooklyn" is one of the high points in The Historic Game section along with a group of four baseball cards from a set called Champions of Games and Sports (1887-1888) produced by W.S. Kimball & Co. for tobacco packaging,

Beginning in the mid-19th century, depictions of baseball pervaded every aspect of daily life. Baseball, especially the image of the baseball player, emerged as a powerful advertising symbol as seen in the rare trade figure ?Baseball Player? (1888-1903), carved in the legendary New York City workshop of Samuel A. Robb. The jaunty mustachioed player is part of a tradition of large-scale sculpture used to advertise tobacco shops and other businesses throughout the country. The Perfect Game also includes a number of idiosyncratic advertising signs as well as works made just for fun, such as life-size arcade and carnival figures, graphic games, and croquet wickets. Baseball became so ingrained in the public mind that images of the game were used to decorate everything from andirons to weathervanes, such as the "Baseball Batter" weathervane that incorporates directionals underneath the silhouette of the batter that read "1, 2, 3, H" instead of the conventional "N, S, E, W."

The show includes a number of nostalgic objects. Among these are a hand lettered Box Office sign, a portion of a frieze from the front entrance of the original Yankee Stadium, and "The Brooklyn Dodger Sym-phony Drum" used by members of a brass band of amateur musicians who would mangle the tunes of every song they played during a game.

Some of the artists represented in the exhibition have been deeply involved in the game itself. Ball player and quiltmaker Clara Schmitt Rothmeier played first base for a traveling female softball team from Springfield, Ill, during the 1950s. While on the road, she appliqued and embroidered pictures of her favorite players - among them Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, and Jackie Robinson - which she sent to them to be autographed. The 44-block quilt of this all star team is surrounded by small cloth baseballs that are also autographed. Umpire George Sosnak hand painted colorful baseballs commemorating people and events in the history of the sport from the 1960s through late 80s. David Mellor, Director of Grounds at Boston's famed Fenway Park, is an artist with an unusual medium - grass. He uses rollers, 21" for the infield; 6' wide for the outfield, pulled behind lawn mowers. As a roller passes over the grass, it bends the blades so that they change tone when the sun hits at different angles. The designs can only be seen from the stands and, according to the players, are not a distraction. Included in the exhibition are such photographs as the Red Sox's team logo drawn in the infield to commemorate their centennial celebration. These rolled grass images reveal Mellor's newly appreciated form of art and materials.

The exhibition celebrates baseball and its heroes through the eyes of some of 20th century's most expressive self-taught artists. Teams and players have been immortalized, as have games by teams of women, children, and prisoners. Stars like Mike "King" Kelly, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Greenberg, as well as renowned teams such as the "miracle" Mets, the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers are highlighted in the exhibition. Justin McCarthy's paintings commemorate the New York Yankees' 1952 World Series victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers and "Watergate," a complex painting by Ralph Fasanella, depicts baseball as a metaphor of American society. Malcah Zeldis' painting "Homage to Hank Greenberg" honors the Jewish ballplayer. African American artists Sam Doyle and Jimmy Lee Sudduth have painted tributes to their hero, Jackie Robinson, while Thornton Dial's textured painting reveals baseball as a road of opportunity for African Americans.

Ray Materson began to create unusual miniature tapestries while in a Connecticut correctional institution. The nine tiny portraits of the 1963 New York Yankees are fashioned from unusual materials: thread from unraveled socks, shoelace thread for the borders, and boxer shorts for the backing. Among the works in the section devoted to The Women's Game is Lewis Smith's drawing of "Maximo Bloomer Girls Baseball Club" and Earl Eyman's carving of miniature figures of a girl's softball game. These players, organizations, and events had an impact on American culture that has survived to the present day.

Today, baseball's influence extends to an international community with players from nations around the world. One aspect of the exhibition features The International Game, particularly the Cuban League that featured players who also gained fame in the American Negro League. In Latin America, players of color received respect and fair treatment that were denied them in the US. Notable moments in Cuban baseball history are shown in paintings from the 1990s by an artist in Havana who is known only by his signature, "Jorge S."

As Yogi Berra once said, "You can see a lot just by observing." Works in the exhibition are drawn from the renowned Gladstone Collection of American Baseball Art and private and public collections around the country. The exhibition is sponsored in part by Sports Illustrated, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Major League Baseball, and the New York Mets.

The exhibition will be accompanied by The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball, a 150-page book by Elizabeth V. Warren with Margaret S. Smeal. Published by the American Folk Art Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., and produced by Marquand Books, it includes an introduction by renowned baseball writer Roger Angell and foreword by Gerard C. Wertkin, director of the museum. The book features 175 illustrations, 168 in full color and the cost is $29.95.

Baseball for Everyone: Stories from the Great Game by Janet Wyman Coleman with Elizabeth V. Warren will be available in conjunction with the exhibition. Published by Harry N. Abrams, this colorful 48-page tour of baseball's history for ages 8-12 shows why it is truly a game for everybody. From carved bats and early baseball cards to images of the great players, the book celebrates America's homegrown sport. The cost of the book is $16.95.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the America Folk Art Museum will present a series of innovative educational programs, such as Baseball Collector's Day with Adult and Child Collectors, Sports Writers Panel, Dialogue with the Artists, Baseball Songs, Family Programs, Curatorial Tours, and Meet the Players.

Founded in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum is a leading cultural institution dedicated to the collection, exhibition, preservation, and study of traditional and contemporary folk art from the U.S. and abroad. The museum's acclaimed building, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, is the first new freestanding art museum built in New York City since 1966. The new facility allows the museum to display a substantial number of artworks from its collection of more than 4,000 objects.

American Folk Art Museum is located at 45 West 53 Street, New York 10019.
Hours are Tues.-Sun. 10:30 am-5:30 pm; Fri. until 7:30 pm; Closed Mon.; Admission $9; Students and Seniors $7. Admission is free on Fridays between 6 and 7:30 pm. There is a Museum Shop and Cafe.
For further information, www.folkartmuseum.org or call 212/265-1040. For press information and slides, please contact: Susan Flamm, 212/265-1040 ext. 113; sflamm@folkartmuseum.org

Posted by Webmaster at June 4, 2003 08:27 PM