The sport of baseball is America’s favorite pastime in part because, in its relatively short 155-year history, it has managed to leave its mark in all areas of the nation’s culture, from fashion and advertising to media and art. Los Angeles's Craft and Folk Art Museum has teamed up with businessman, avid sports memorabilia collector, and curator Gary Cypres (who founded the Sports Museum of Los Angeles to house his extensive collection) for a celebration of America’s national sport, highlighting approximately 75 works of baseball-inspired American Folk art made between the late 19th century and today, just in time the start of the season.
The athletic and mathematical game officially became an organized sport in the US in 1857, and the “Mad Men” of yesteryear quickly honed in on its widespread popularity as an ideal vehicle to peddle tobacco products, birthing the phenomena of tradable commodities like collectible cards and novelty items. In addition to being a great tool for mass marketing, the simplicity of the game also made it translatable into less-athletic variations like board and casino games, allowing it to take on various forms in children’s arcades and traveling fairs.
“Baseball: The All-American Game” demonstrates the versatility of the sport across areas of culture, and its impact on artisans of all kinds. Former inmate Ray Materson’s portrait “2009 New York Yankees: Mark Teixeira” is a painstaking labor of love, woven with the threads of unraveled socks and shoelaces. The colorful and ornately produced series of paper fans, “A Fan for a Fan,” (1910), were created as in-stadium entertainment by various companies — much in the same way that audiences at large stadiums today receive complimentary t-shirts and mugs. Alison Saar’s “Bat Boyz” (2001) is a stark reminder of one of the darker sides of the sport: its exclusionary practices. The piece adds an important element to the exhibition, standing out as one of the few visual portrayals of African-American participants in the early history of baseball.
The exhibition remains an example of the power the sport has to move the public to forms of visual expression. Just as baseball may be America’s national pastime, folk art remains the soul of the country’s traditional arts, and the two intermingle in this homegrown celebration the art of the ball game.
To see art from the exhibition click the slide show.