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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

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Pop Filter Hot Pick: We Are The Ship showcases Negro League Baseball at Heinz History Center

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This baseball season, step right up to an engaging new art exhibition and pay tribute to the heroic larger-than-life athletes whose groundbreaking role ultimately transcended the game of baseball and helped to set the stage for the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Presenting a rare inside look at the rich history and legacy of Negro League Baseball, The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the Ship runs June 29th through August 26th at the Heinz History Center's Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

Weaving the personal and historical story of the Negro Leagues--which operated in different forms from approximately 1885 until 1951--the powerful 2,500 square foot exhibition features 50 original paintings and sketches by award-winning African-American artist, illustrator and author, Kadir Nelson. When African American players were not permitted to play in the major and minor baseball leagues, the Negro leagues formed professional baseball leagues consisting of teams made up of African Americans and Latin American athletes.

Born in Washington D.C., Nelson studied art at New York City's Pratt Institute, and has produced illustration work for high profile publications and companies such as Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Coca-Cola, Major League Baseball, and the US Postal Service. With an artistic process that focuses on African-American culture and history, Nelson has had exhibited work in galleries and museums throughout the world, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and The Yokohama Citizens’ Gallery in Japan. His work is also featured in the collections of the US House of Representatives, US Sports Academy, International Olympic Committee, and National Baseball Hall of Fame.

A prolific visual artist who has also provided works for film and television sets, Nelson has also collaborated on children's books with poet Ntozake Shange, director Spike Lee and actors Debbie Allen and Will Smith. In 2009, Nelson published Change Has Come, which features illuminated quotations by President Obama.

To produce the arresting works for We Are The Ship, Nelson spent seven years interviewing former players, examining old photographs, and researching baseball archives to present an authentic depiction of life in the Negro Leagues. We Are the Ship also features a special section on the Negro League baseball tradition and its role in Pittsburgh, including a rare uniform and artifacts from the permanent collection of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

To further augment the exhibition, the Sports Museum will also unveil a new life-like figure of baseball legend Josh Gibson, who moved with his family from Buena Vista, Georgia to Pittsburgh in 1923. A Hall of Fame power slugger and gifted catcher, Gibson led the National Negro League in home runs for 10 consecutive years. A star player for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays from 1927 to 1946--which were racially segregated years in sports and American life--Gibson has been dubbed the greatest baseball player of his day.

Revealing another side to Gibson’s life in Pittsburgh at the time is a signed employee identification card from his days of employment with the Westinghouse Air Brake Company–recently discovered in the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives–which will also be on display in the exhibition.

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