Exhibit runs in conjunction with Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival
— “Scrimmage: Football in American Art from the Civil War to Present,” at the Canton Museum of Art, is the first comprehensive collection of work by prominent American artists focusing on football.
The exhibit, now on display through Oct. 29, will allow audiences from around the country to discover and explore football and art in a community steeped in both.
The Museum, located at 1001 Market Avenue North, in Canton, will host a public reception Aug. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m.
This exhibit developed as curators discovered that a host of prominent American artists had pictured aspects of football and the public culture surrounding the sport, yet no focused art historical study had examined these images; in fact, very little research has addressed the large body of artworks that engage with sports.
“Scrimmage” features 78 artworks, dating from the 1850s to 2014, that take as their subject various aspects of the game of football. Rather than presenting a history of the sport, the exhibit raises questions about sports, art, and their roles in our history and culture, revealing attitudes and transitions in American life over the past 150 years and is divided into eight sections:
Football: the Spectator Sport
How did football, which began as a private extracurricular activity for a small group of young men, become the public spectacle we know today? Early on the sport was embraced by college administrators who saw benefits, including the potential for financial gain – contributions from alumni and institutional giving loyalty – and increased interest from the press. This section examines the public culture of football as spectator sport. Football soon developed a culture separate from play on the field – bands, cheerleaders, mascots, team colors, pep-rallies, homecoming, and parades – were all introduced early in the history of the sport. These remain vital parts of the culture and have led to modern-day fan-driven activities like tail-gating, team merchandising and extensive half-time extravaganzas brought to super-size scale at the Super Bowl. Artists, as fascinated by these phenomena as the game itself, picture these American obsessions.
Class, Race and Ethnicity
Initially isolated to the campuses of the Ivy Leagues, football began as a sport for upper-class white Americans. This section examines issues of class, race, and ethnicity and football’s transition from an Ivy League sport to a mass-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial phenomenon. How did this transition happen? Early and frequent press coverage brought football to a mass audience, broadening interest in the sport; at the turn of the century American immigrants began to engage in casual games as a means of assimilation into American life; and, as the American education system democratized, welcoming a wider-spectrum of students to campuses across the country, college football rosters began to reflect a more diverse population. Despite this, the imagery of football reflects ongoing racial and ethnic prejudice and biases. While African American and Native American players distinguished themselves on the football gridiron, their images are rarely seen in the early history of football art; instead they are reduced to racial stereotypes, or parodied in mascot imagery.
Football, Struggle, War and the ‘Strenuous Life’
President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “strenuous life,” urging American men and boys to develop strength through athletics in preparation for “the rough work of the world.” In a 1900 article entitled “The American Boy” Roosevelt singled out football as a model. He admonished the American boy to engage in “manly exercises and to develop his body” and concluded by writing: “In short, in life, as in a foot-ball game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!” For Roosevelt, the “strenuous life” was also preparation for the necessity of war and keeping America strong. This exhibit examines artists’ depictions that relate to the promotion of football as a model for masculinity and that suggest analogies to warfare.
Gender in Football: Women’s Roles
Despite Title IX legislation and attempts at developing women’s football leagues, women have not played a role on the gridiron. Yet women figure prominently in football imagery. The exhibition explores how images both perpetuate and challenge gender stereotypes. While Charles Dana Gibson’s The Coming Game: Yale vs. Vassar, 1895, places women as protagonists on the field, the majority of artists portray women in passive and objectified roles. As adorned spectators, cheerleaders, drum majorettes, women serve as foils that clearly define play on the field as a masculine realm.
Football and Violence
Current discussions about long-term football injuries and the concussion crisis suggest that these concerns are new. Yet, as early as the colonial period, rudimentary forms of football were outlawed and condemned for their violent nature and for provoking incendiary behavior.
And, in the early part of the 20th century, despite his love for football, Theodore Roosevelt bemoaned the lawless nature of the game. The troublesome nature of football, explored by artists from the 19th century through the contemporary period, emerged first in a score of illustrations. In “Scrimmage,” artists picture the extreme physical nature of the sport and its ramifications.
The American Sport
Yale Coach, Walter Camp (1859-1925), widely known as the “father of American football,” envisioned a game that mirrored a model of capitalism, industrial strength and American ingenuity. Creating rules that clearly distinguished football from what he saw as its unruly English antecedents, Camp’s football imitated an American corporate structure with each player fulfilling a specific assignment, a hierarchy of positions, and managerial roles for quarterback and coaching staff. In the exhibition, artwork reflects these ideas and other traditions specific to American ways of life, including the association of the Thanksgiving holiday with football, the quarterback as American hero, and the sport as rite-of-passage.
Celebrity Culture and the Media
The rise of football as an American sport is directly tied to media coverage. In “Scrimmage,” a number of prints are displayed that were published and widely distributed through a popular press that brought the sport to wide attention. Michael Oriard’s books, Reading Football, and King Football, trace the arc of media coverage from these early prints, through the rise of radio, newsreels and movies, to the advent of the televised game, chronicling how our mediated world has promoted the sport and its participants. The first televised game took place on December 28, 1958 and gradually, television coverage accentuated spectacle; the use of slow motion, instant replay, half-time interviews and locker room footage, turned the football contest into high drama, and heightened attention to the celebrity status of individual players. Television also transformed the way that football was seen – allowing fans to follow teams from the comfort of their own homes. In this section we examine artists reacting to celebrity culture and to mediated views of football.
The concept of “muscular Christianity” promoted in the late 19th and early 20th century suggested that vigorous exercise and participation in sports competition, developed positive moral characteristics. Popularized, in great part, because of fears that an urbanized workforce lacked physical fitness, the movement promoted strenuous activity. Football was often a model. Though not always aligned to the movement of “muscular Christianity” American leadership has repeatedly emphasized the need for physical fitness, athletic achievement, teamwork and sportsmanship. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy all stressed the need for improved physical condition; Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956 and Kennedy urged better physical fitness in light of Cold War competition with a fit Soviet populace. Today, Michelle Obama promotes “Let’s Move” as a means towards a healthier, less sedentary life. In this section we examine artists who celebrate the athletic prowess of athletes and the skill and beauty of athletics.
This special exhibition is organized by the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art (formerly the University Art Museum) at Colorado State University, and the Jorden Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.
To compliment the exhibition, several collaborative events are planned to bring “Scrimmage” to life over three months throughout the Canton community:
Through Aug. 7 // Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival
Special Scrimmage Exhibit Tours for Enshrinement Weekend
For a Full Listing of Events, Visit www.profootballhoffestival.com
Aug. 4, 4:30 p.m. // Art Mural Dedication — No. 5 in “The ELEVEN” Public Art Project
Super Bowl III, 1968 by Dirk Rozich
Dedication by David Baker, President, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Robb Hankins, CEO of Arts In Stark, and Special Guests Celebrating one of the “Eleven Greatest Moments in Football”
Cultural Center for the Arts / Canton Museum of Art (1001 Market Avenue North)
August 10, 6 – 8pm (Free) // Scrimmage Opening Celebration — Canton Museum of Art
Special Reception & Exhibit Tours
Gallery Talk: “Football in the Art Museum” — Max Barton, Executive Director, Canton Museum of Art, and Joe Horrigan, Executive Director, Pro Football Hall of Fame
August 10 – October 29 // Gridiron Legends of Stark County — Canton Museum of Art
Special Exhibit from the Pro Football Hall of Fame Focused on Canton’s Enshrinees
August – October // Paul Brown Exhibit — Massillon Museum
Paul Brown: Innovator — New Exhibit Celebrating Paul Brown as Coach and NFL Visionary.
Exhibit Opening August 19 (Free) • www.massillonmuseum.org
This special exhibition has been made possible with support in part by Stark Communuity Foundation, Ohio Arts Council, ArtsInStark, Aultcare, Visit Canton and the Key Bank Foundation.
The Canton Museum of Art (CMA) is one of Ohio’s premier museums for an exceptional visual arts experience. CMA is recognized for powerful national touring exhibits; dynamic CMA-original exhibits; an unrivaled Permanent Collection of American watercolors and contemporary ceramics; and innovative education outreach programs, in-Museum classes, and workshops. CMA is one of only two Stark County museums accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. For more information, including hours, exhibits, classes, and special events, call 330-453-7666, visit www.cantonart.org, Facebook at “Canton Museum of Art,” or @CantonMuseum on Twitter.