Lazy Sunday afternoons in lower Manhattan aren’t quite what they used to be, but the culture of that time has been preserved through paintings like those by famed artist Kadir Nelson, the Academy’s 2009 Sport Artist of the Year. His new work of art, “Stickballers,” which depicts an interracial youth stickball game set in Manhattan in the 1930s, is set to be unveiled in August.
Many children of that time could be seen playing stickball out in the streets. However, it was not often that you would see children of different races playing games together. The spirit of interracial tolerance shines through Nelson’s work as it shows children from different neighborhoods coming together for a friendly game of stickball. This work is part of a series of paintings that celebrate what is considered to be the Harlem Renaissance era.
Nelson is known for his depictions of historical subjects, paying tribute to young athletes of the past. An award-winning American artist, his works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums.
Sports Illustrated, The Coca-Cola Company, The United States Postal Service (USPS), Major League Baseball, and Dreamworks SKG are just a few of the distinguished clients that have requested works by Nelson. He also worked as a visual development artist, creating concept artwork for the feature films, “Amistad,” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” His work can also be found in many notable institutions and public collections, including the U.S. House of Representatives and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as in the private collections of actors, professional athletes, and musicians.
His work not only can be found hanging on the walls of many notable institutions and galleries, but also on the front of an envelope. In December of 2014, Nelson’s paintings of one of the most memorable players in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain, were turned into postage stamps for the USPS. That same year Ralph Ellison, author of the famed 1952 novel Invisible Man, made his way from Nelson’s brush to the face of a stamp. This was not a first for his work to be placed on a stamp either, as his designs for the USPS also include the Richard Wright and Anna Julia Cooper stamps, both issued in 2009, the 2010 Negro Leagues Baseball stamps, the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Stars stamps, and the 2013 Althea Gibson stamps.
Also an avid writer, Nelson has published several books. One of the most successful and a New York Times Bestseller was “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball,” a story focuses on racial discrimination and international sportsmanship. More specifically, the story features players who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions, and low pay to do the one thing they loved to do more than anything else in the world: play ball. The book received its name in honor of the founder of the Negro National League, Rube Foster, who once said, “We are the ship; all else the sea.”
Nelson was born in Silver Spring, Md., where he began drawing at the age of three, before he could write or spell. He soon became his uncle’s apprentice, who is also an artist and art instructor. His studies began at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he originally studied architecture, soon switching his major to illustration. After he graduated, Nelson got his first big break helping to draw scenes for Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film “Amistad.”
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