Bob Krieger based his series of portraits, on display from July 4 to the end of August, on the earliest baseball cards he could find online
They were rolled up in storage: Eight paintings of the first Black ball players to break the colour barrier in Major League Baseball.
Their creator, Bob Krieger, hadn’t given them much thought of late. He began painting them a decade ago.
Then artist Val Arntzen asked to see them, so Krieger unrolled them on the floor.
“She gasped and said, ‘Those are perfect for today,’ ” Krieger said as he sat in the AMP, Arntzen’s studio and gallery that is handily located a few doors down from Krieger’s Strathcona home. The paintings are on display in the windows.
Krieger based the portraits on the earliest baseball cards he could find online. Black Lives Matter and the deadly racist violence that goes on in the U.S. made them more relevant.
Krieger’s parents moved to Vancouver from San Francisco in 1949. His dad Edgar loved the San Francisco — and before that New York — Giants, and Edgar’s two youngest sons, Bob and Kit, worked at Capilano (now Nat Bailey) Stadium as clubhouse boys when the Triple-A Vancouver Mounties called it home.
Kit, who would go on to become president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation in the 1990s, even pitched for the Mounties there once.
One of Krieger’s earliest memories, when he was four, was of him and Kit listening to a Mounties game in 1959 and hearing their mother’s second-cousin’s name during the broadcast — Don Taussig, an outfielder for the Phoenix Giants.
His mom Ann, by the way, grew up on Riverside Drive in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, across the street from a certain Sultan of Swat.
“She lived across the street from Babe Ruth,” Krieger said. “The story is, he bowed to her one day and she curtsied back.”
So baseball runs rich in Krieger’s veins, as does belief in social justice.
“Just painting (the major-league ball players) didn’t do it for me, I needed some sort of political motivation,” Krieger, now 65 and an editorial cartoonist at The Province from 1981 to 2012, said. “At the time I never thought they’d have relevancy in 2020.”
He hadn’t painted in more than a quarter century after joining The Province’s editorial pages until a friend, fellow political cartoonist in Halifax Bruce MacKinnon, cajoled Krieger into joining him at a painting workshop in Germany hosted by master caricaturist Sebastian Kruger.
Krieger has painted two per workshop over the years: Jackie Robinson, Pumpsie Green, Hank Thompson (twice, as he became the first Black player on two teams), Bob Trice, Sam ‘The Jet’ Jethroe, Minnie Minoso and Larry Doby.
Next up is Ernie Banks, followed by the seven remaining players who were the first Blacks integrated into their major-league teams.
Because they’re modelled after baseball cards of the day, racial stereotypes are included; to ignore them, Krieger said, would be to pretend those prejudices never existed.
The closest to a favourite, he said, are his paintings of Doby and Jethroe. He’s still experimenting, finding his style with a brush and fast-drying acrylic paint.
“I don’t remember ever being happy with one I’ve finished,” Krieger said. “But it’s a lot of fun.
“While I’m not wild about the paintings, I like the idea. Maybe by (the 16th and final) painting, I’ll be satisfied.”
The portraits, which are a joy to view if not perfectly rendered to the artist’s satisfaction, are on display beginning this Saturday, July 4 with an open house from noon to 5 p.m., and runs until the end of August at the gallery, at the corner of Keefer Street and Hawks Avenue.
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