By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld….
Because the mother of renowned artist Kadir Nelson lives in South Miami-Dade, Miami has been added to the list of cities that will exhibit his magnificent paintings about the Negro Baseball League. The exhibit is entitled We Are the Ship and features paintings and sketches by Nelson, celebrated artist and illustrator. The exhibit will open in the Downtown Miami Freedom Tower on Nov. 3 with an invitation-only party, then will be open to the public Nov. 4 through Jan. 8. The paintings will continue on tour of the U.S. through 2013.
The exhibit includes a 5×5-foot painting of Jackie Robinson, and two other paintings have been used as U.S. postage stamps to pay homage to the Negro League. Nelson also wrote a book entitled We Are The Ship: The Story of the Negro Baseball League.
“The history of the league was big to me,” Nelson says. “I wanted to paint in an epic format. I wanted to exhibit them, too.”
Nelson spent eight years researching, painting and writing the book. After successfully arranging a tour for the paintings, the exhibit initially was slated to bypass Miami because there was no venue available to house it.
“When my mother found out about the tour, she wanted to bring it to Miami,” Nelson says. “I wanted the exhibit to go where Negro League baseball was played.”
When she learned the exhibit would bypass Miami for the lack of a venue, Nelson’s mom, Emily Gunter, decided she would find a location. She had heard about the Freedom Tower and she visited historic building to see for herself whether it was a suitable place to exhibit the paintings.
“I had heard the history of the building,” she says. “It’s the Ellis Island of Miami. This is nothing but perfect. The Cubans and Negros were the ones who came together to form the Negro league because the dark Cubans were not allowed to play in the major leagues.”
Gunter is organizing a series of events around the exhibit, including a fundraiser for Urgent Inc., which runs an after-school program at Goulds Elementary, as well as intergenerational programs, programs for grandparents raising grandchildren and housing programs for low income families. This school year, Gunter will work at Goulds two days a week and with a new after-school care program in Overtown three days a week.
“Eleven-11-11, the date itself says it’s going to be a very special event,” she says. “Kadir is lending his celebrity to Urgent Inc. It will help pay for all of the programs that we do now.”
Nelson will lecture at the New World School of the Arts Nov. 8, speak at the Kendall Campus Fall Fest Nov. 9 and at the Miami Book Fair International. The exhibit will run through both Art Basel and the Book Fair.
One of the events will be on Dec. 10 at Dorsey Park, where the Negro League played in Miami. There will be an unveiling of a mural painted by children and free shuttle buses will transport people between Dorsey Park and the Freedom Tower. The event also includes the rededication of the park, and area Little League teams are invited to attend in uniform.
Nelson is an award winning illustrator and has won a Coretta Scott King Award and a Caldecott Honor. He recently won a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators for his book Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans and his painting of Michael Jackson’s life is featured in the singer’s last CD entitled Michael.