A painting featuring Hall of Fame slugger Oscar Charleston on a 90-year old baseball mitt by Guelph, Ontario artist Sean Kane has been created to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues first game which took place in Indianapolis on May 2, 1920, and in which Charleston played.
The painting was originally slated to be exhibited in Indianapolis to coincide with the anniversary, but the show has been cancelled. The venue for the exhibit is closed due to Covid-19 precautions.
Charleston, an Indianapolis native, was one of the early stars and all-time greats of the Negro Leagues, a powerful hitter with speed and an exceptional center fielder who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.
The painting by Kane, whose artwork is in the permanent collections of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, is on a vintage first base mitt from the 1930s, reflecting the position Charleston played later in his career.
“Sean’s amazing and creative artistic depiction of Oscar Charleston beautifully captures the spirit of the man who Negro Leagues legend Buck O’Neil considered to be the greatest baseball player ever,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “Yet Charleston, rightfully enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is not a household name but he should be.”
Founded in February, 1920, in Kansas City, the Negro National League was the first successful, organized professional Black Baseball League that provided a venue for African-American and Hispanic baseball players.
“As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Negro Leagues and the inaugural game being played in Indianapolis, we’re grateful that Sean chose to bring this legendary player to life through his remarkable work,” Kendrick said.
The League’s first game was part of a double-header on May 2 of that year. The Indianapolis ABC’s played the Chicago Giants at Washington Park with Oscar Charleston in the lineup for his hometown ABC’s.
Portrait of a Top 20th-Century Player
Kane’s portrait of Charleston, depicted in an ABC’s uniform, captures his likeness with acrylic paints and provides a sense of the 1920s era.
“By combining a detailed portrait, type and graphics reminiscent of the era, my aim is to tell a simple visual story about Oscar,” said Kane. “I hope to draw people in to learn more about him and the times in which he played, especially the Negro Leagues.”
The mitt, made by Spalding for a left-handed thrower like Charleston, also gives an insight into the equipment used by players nearly 100 years ago.
At that game a century ago, according to a newspaper account at the time, over 6,000 fans were on hand as the ABC’s won both games of the doubleheader, 4-2 and 11-4. “Hard hitting and fast fielding marked both contests” according to The Indianapolis News coverage on May 3, 1920.
Charleston started his career playing for the ABC’s (American Brewing Company) in 1915, before they became a charter member of the Negro National League. He is considered by baseball experts to be among the top players to have ever played the game, ranked alongside the likes of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
Charleston also played and managed the Negro League’s mighty Pittsburgh Crawfords in the 1930’s and spent nine winter ball seasons in Cuba. He returned to Indianapolis in the 1950s as manager of the Indianapolis Clowns until his death in 1954.
Drawing Inspiration on Gloves from Baseball’s Past
Kane has been a professional artist for 25 years, first as a commercial illustrator before turning his expertise to his life-long love of baseball for inspiration. Kane first got the idea to use baseball mitts as his canvas in 2001. “I think of them as a sort of time machine, helping to take the viewer back to the time and place of a ballplayer’s career,” said the Chicago-raised artist now based near Toronto.
The Charleston glove art took approximately 120 hours to complete, which included researching his career and photo archives, sketching designs and sourcing the appropriate mitt from an antique dealer specializing in sports memorabilia, then painting.
Kane’s work was part of an exhibit at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 2014. He has painted portraits of several Negro Leagues players, including the Indianapolis Clowns’ Toni Stone, the first female player in the Negro Leagues.
“I feel really lucky that I was able to see a few minor league games at old Bush Stadium, knowing that the ABCs and Clowns played there,” said Kane, who went to university in Indianapolis. “There’s so much rich baseball history around Indy.”
The painting of Stone was also in the lineup of the cancelled exhibit, highlighting the story of the tail end of this chapter in baseball history. The Negro Leagues operated for 40 years, driving growth in African-American communities across the country. Pro baseball’s gradual integration beginning in 1947 signaled the beginning of the end for the Negro Leagues and by 1966 the Indianapolis Clowns were the last team still playing.
Kane’s baseball glove art has been commissioned by a range of baseball-related organizations including the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. His work is in the private collections of Hall of Fame players and individuals across the United States and Canada.
Plans are being made to exhibit Kane’s Oscar Charleston painting and gloves featuring other players in Indianapolis next spring.
Kane’s baseball glove art can be seen at his website, http://SeanKaneBaseballArt.com.