The exhibition pays homage to Negro Leagues Baseball players and explores how and why the leagues were such a source of pride for the African-American community.
Darryl Matthews: Black Diamond is on view through May 31, 2022, at the American Tobacco Campus – Reed Art Gallery in Durham. This solo exhibition of works by artist and illustrator Darryl Matthews honors Negro Leagues Baseball players. Matthews is the son of late Negro Leagues first baseman Francis Oliver Matthews who played with the Newark Eagles. The exhibition features more than 20 watercolor paintings and is accompanied by archival video and selected memorabilia reproductions from Matthews’ personal collection.
On February 13, 1920, in an era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, Andrew “Rube” Foster and fellow team owners joined together to create the Negro National League (NNL). The NNL teams were the Chicago American Giants, the Indianapolis ABCs, Chicago Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Detroit Stars, St. Louis Giants, Dayton Marcos, and the Cuban Stars. Rival leagues like the Negro Southern League, Eastern Colored League, East-West League and the Negro American League emerged over time.
The Negro Leagues underscored the racial, socio- economic, recreational, and political realities of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the African- American community, Negro Leagues Baseball represented achievement, success, ingenuity, self-empowerment, and perseverance. The leagues raised black consciousness, and they were a catalyst for change.
The stories of the games and the African-American and Latino players were chronicled in historically Black publications, such as the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier and New York Amsterdam News. The teams barnstormed their way through U.S. cities and towns, the Caribbean and Canada, enthralling fans. Some athletes travelled overseas to play in Japan, as well. Wherever the players took to the field, they were building a legacy and creating history.
The Darryl Matthews: Black Diamond exhibition provides an intimate view of this history through a collection of works featuring Negro Leagues players such as Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson, Francis Oliver Matthews, Jackie Robinson, and female players Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, and Connie Morgan. The memorabilia reproductions and archival video that complement the exhibition capture the Negro Leagues as they were—through the games, players, and places.
In December 2020, Major League Baseball (MLB) recognized the Negro Leagues as Major Leaguers. All 3,400 players from 1920 to 1948 were elevated to MLB status—100 years after the start of the Negro Leagues. The pronouncement is significant for a group of legends who broke new ground and paved the way for future generations. The exhibition celebrates these legends and all that they accomplished and symbolized.
“We are excited to be partnering with American Tobacco Campus to bring this exhibition to Durham,” said Drinking Gourd Gallery owner Carol Torian. “Darryl Matthews’ work captures the vitality and resiliency of the Negro Leagues players. And it demonstrates the capacity of art to tell past stories and reflect underrepresented perspectives. We hope the exhibition will spark and encourage dialogue.”
Artist Darryl Matthews (b. 1962) is a native of New Jersey who spent part of his childhood in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. From an early age, art was his refuge, and he was inspired by the images he saw in the comic books that he read and loved. Matthews attended the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art and is best known for his highly detailed paintings of sports figures and musical artists. His work creates narratives about American culture and provides a lens for viewing the nation’s complex history. Matthews was part of the art communities in New Jersey and California before settling in North Carolina where he continues to live and work today.
About Drinking Gourd Gallery
Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Drinking Gourd Gallery is a virtual gallery space offering the works of established and emerging artists. The gallery name is derived from the “Follow the Drinking Gourd” folk song and is meant to honor the legacy of those who were once enslaved. Looking back and ahead, the gallery is dedicated to artistic freedom and committed to showcasing diverse voices and perspectives. Known for its eclectic, ever-changing collection, Drinking Gourd Gallery is proud to present exhibitions and programming that inspire and engage.
American Tobacco Campus – Reed Art Gallery is openly daily and located at 318 Blackwell Street, Durham, NC 27701. Admission is free and open to the public.
Thanks to ATC’s Valerie Ward for this Capcom story & graphic.