We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Exhibition Dates:

Original Paintings by Kadir Nelson
2012 American Series Exhibition | Warner Gallery

Tour Management by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, Kansas City, Missouri

September 15 – November 11, 2012


“We are the ship, all else the sea.”Rube Foster, founder of the Negro leagues

This traveling exhibition features a collection of thirty-three paintings, thirteen sketches and educational materials from the book, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by award-winning artist and author Kadir Nelson. The New York Times named this book one of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008. Nelson chose Foster’s quote for the title, explaining that it was a “declaration of independence” of the Negro Leagues from the Major Leagues.

Nelson spent seven years researching, writing and creating handsome paintings to be included in the brilliantly illustrated book, which is dedicated to the preservation of the history of Negro Leagues. During this process, he interviewed former Negro League players, traveled to museums around the country, pored over old photographs, firsthand testimonies and documentaries, collected baseball memorabilia, sports equipment and uniforms, then posed and photographed himself in them, all with the intention of putting himself in the shoes of a former Negro League player to recreate an authentic depiction of life in the Negro Leagues.

This exhibition is the story of Negro Leagues-the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the twentieth century. But most of all, the story of the Negro Leagues is about hundreds of unsung heroes who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions, and low pay to do the one thing they loved more than anything else in the world: play ball.

Triple Play logoWe Are the Ship is the centerpiece of a collaboration the SBMA initiated with the University of Notre Dame Multicultural Student Programs & Services Office, Center for History, The Civil Rights Heritage Center at the Natatorium, and the South Bend Silver Hawks. This series of community programs, entitled Triple Play: Race, Baseball, Art, is aimed at creating awareness, education and action about the topic. Each partner planned related programming in order to expand our collective impact and audience, making the exhibition and its valuable teaching opportunities accessible to youth and adults in the region and beyond.


The South Bend Museum of Art’s 2012-2013 Exhibition Program is made possible, in part, with support from the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County’s ArtsEverywhere Initiative.

This exhibition is made possible, in part, with support from the following sponsors:


June H. Edwards Burkhart logo

Barbara K. Warner


All Star:
Faegre Baker Daniels
Arts Everywhere Matching Grant
Perfect Game:
African American Community Fund
Florence V. Carroll Charitable Trust Foundation
June H. Edwards

Grand Slam:
1st Source Bank
Burkhart Advertising
Inn at Saint Mary’s
Hilton Garden Inn

Home Run:
Barbara K. Warner
PNC Bank

Double Play:
Electronics, Inc.
Teachers Credit Union
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel South Bend

Line Drive:
Ramona Payne & Tony Fitts
Robert & Susan Shields
Marcia Rickard & Dennis Doordan

Lynn Blue
Mary Jane Buzolich
Drs. Richmond and Virginia Calvin
Mr. & Mrs. James Cooke
Mr. & Mrs. George Coquillard
Margo DeMont
General Sheet Metal Works
Gerber Family Fund
Richard and Mary Pat Nussbaum

Mary Pyles
Lynda B. & Charles S. Simon
Mrs. & Mrs. T. Gordon Smith

Steel Warehouse
Maria Tomasula

Base Hit:
Brent and Carolyn Banulis
Harvey & Mary Anne Hurst
Carolyn Joers
Claudia Maslowski
Donald Maylath
Raymond McLein
Mary Ann Moran
Steve and Annette Romans
Dr. & Mrs. Charles Rosenberg

Carol Schultz
J. Eric Smithburn and Aladean M. DeRose
William C. Whitman

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