LOS ANGELES, CA.-
Opening at the height of baseball season, the Craft and Folk Art Museum
presents Baseball: The All-American Game from May 26 through September 9, 2012. For the first time in Los Angeles, the public has access to the largest exhibition of baseball-related traditional folk art since the American Folk Art Museums historic The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball in 2003. This exhibition explores baseballs impact on American folk art made between the late-1800s to present day. Approximately 75 works of baseball-inspired folk art and memorabilia are shown from the private collection of Gary Cypres, owner of one of the largest sports memorabilia collections in the world.
No other sport is more ingrained within the American national consciousness than the great game of baseball. Baseball became the first organized sport in the United States in 1857. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the sport became increasingly important in uniting a population that was previously divided. As baseballs popularity grew throughout the country, its imagery emerged in all mediums of popular culture.
Hand-painted tobacco advertisements in the exhibition underscore how the tobacco industry capitalized on the phenomenon by offering collectible baseball cards and novelty items to boost cigarette sales. Baseball Hero Quilt (c. 1916) is an example of flannels collected from dozens of cigarette packets sewn together as a remarkable patchwork quilt of professional baseball players. Consumer giveaways at ballparks also provided opportunities for additional collectibles such as the Fan for a Fan (c. 1910), designed for female spectators.
When Americans werent watching or playing baseball, the sports presence persisted in daily American life. Baseball-themed childrens board games and penny arcade figures like Boston Arcade Figure (c. 1895) and Atta Boy (1932) demonstrate the ease with which the sport translated into nonphysical leisure activities. Traveling carnivals presented hand-carved and painted baseball-toss games. And before the widespread use of radio, public establishments like bars and hotels kept manually operated scoreboards for people to keep track of their favorite teams standings.
The nostalgia and impact of baseball imagery continues to resonate today. Ray Materson, a self-taught artist, rehabilitated himself in prison by learning to embroider portraits of baseball players with threads from unraveled socks, coveted today for their handiwork and the implied story of salvation. Alison Saar carved the faces of Negro League players into the ends of baseball bats in her work Bat Boys (2001). With this work, she appropriates the folk art of woodcarving to reflect on baseballs discriminatory past while also connecting traditional folk art practice with contemporary art.