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Art & Soul: The Visual Arts - Ann Arbor Artist Creates Historic Negro League Baseball Player Art

Phil Dewey

This week, local and state arts leader Omari Rush and WEMU’s Lisa Barry talk with an Ann Arbor artist who uses a variety of mediums to create art of historic Negro League baseball players.  They also talk about several other visual art opportunities in our area.

New Negro Leagues baseball exhibit opens Saturday June 15

Phil Dewey
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU
89.1 WEMU
Ann Arbor artist Phil Dewey

DETROIT — The Detroit Historical Society proudly presents a centennial celebration of the Negro League Detroit Stars baseball club with a new exhibit opening Saturday, June 15.

The exhibit, organized by the museum’s Black Historic Sites Committee (BHSC) in partnership with the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Detroit Stars and showcases the remarkable saga of Detroit’s Black baseball history, including the Stars and their Hall of Fame outfielder Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

Negro League teams and their legendary players will be featured in rich, graphic display panels, including a life-size painting of Turkey Stearnes (at left) by acclaimed Negro Leagues artist Phil Dewey.  Upon entering the gallery, visitors will also see a display dedicated to the history of Women in Black Baseball.  The exhibit will also include artifacts, memorabilia and a historic timeline of Black baseball in Detroit.

An opening reception at the Detroit Historical Museum in the Allesee Gallery of Culture, complete with hot dogs and refreshments, will take place on Saturday, June 15 from noon to 3 p.m.  Later in the day at 6:10 p.m., the Detroit Tigers will host the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park, making this the perfect tailgate-style pregame party.

The reception kicks off with opening remarks from members of the Black Historic Sites Committee, as well as Turkey Stearnes’ daughter Joyce Stearnes Thompson and Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium founder Gary Gillette.

Phil Dewey
Credit Phil Dewey
Turkey Stearnes (Factory Detail)

Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, so-called “organized baseball” was a segregated sport that banned African Americans.  During this era of discrimination, major-league baseball stadiums were often off limits to Negro League teams. 

Locally, the Detroit Stars played at Mack Park on the city’s east side from 1919 to 1929, before moving in 1930 to Hamtramck Stadium, one of the last remaining major Negro League ballparks in America today.

Phil Dewey
Credit Phil Dewey
Turkey Stearnes (close-up)

Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Detroit Stars, this fascinating new exhibit represents the cornerstone of activities organized by the BHSC in 2019 to educate the public about the history of Black baseball in Detroit.

So far this year, we’ve hosted bus tours of historic Black baseball sites and an ongoing Negro League film series.  A custom designed T-shirt commemorating the Detroit Stars will be available for sale during the reception, designed by the BHSC to raise funds for its programs.

An affinity group of the Detroit Historical Society, the Black Historic Sites Committee was formed in 1971 by then Detroit City Councilman Ernest Browne.  Since its inception, the BHSC has remained dedicated to discovering and exploring historic sites around Detroit that recognize the significant people and events of the city’s African American community. 

Upcoming Visual Arts Events

National Endowment for the Arts Public Meeting @ the Charles H. Wright Museum (Friday, June 21 9 AM-12 PM)

Arts Activities at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival (June 14-July 7):

Takeshi Takahara: Poems to the Wind @ the Washington Street Gallery (June 11-July 21)

  • Opening Reception: Friday, June 14 7-9 PM
  • Takeshi's Artist Talk: Sunday, June 23 3 PM

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
Omari Rush has a continually expanding role of service as both an artistic administrator and community leader, in part through his work as curator of public programs at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
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