Josh Gibson highlights new exhibit

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Though the crowd at the special preview of Heinz History Center and Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum’s newest exhibit included NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris and USGA Hall of Famer Carol Semple Thompson, it was another local sports legend they came to see, Negro League home run king Josh Gibson.

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UNIQUE—Distinctive as a player, this statue of legendary Homestead Grays catcher Josh Gibson that anchors the Heinz History Center’s new exhibit, is also unique in showing him in a throwing position.

A newly commissioned wax figure of the Homestead Grays’ catcher greets visitors to “The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are The Ship,” which features more than 50 paintings and sketches by artist Kadir Nelson.

“It’s right for us to do this exhibit,” said African American Collection Curator Sam Black. “Pittsburgh is the only city that had two teams, and they were both Champions. So we’re very happy to have this exhibit and to share it.”

Nelson spent seven years interviewing players, researching and studying photos to create his paintings, Satchel Paige and Dizzy Dean sharing the mound in St. Louis; Pittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee, cigar in hand, counting his numbers profits in the Crawford Grill; and of course, several poses of Josh, including the iconic pose of him standing in the on-deck circle.

But the highlight of the exhibit preview was the unveiling of the statue by Gibson’s great-grandson Sean Gibson and his family.

“I want to thank the museum, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Fine Foundation and the Double Eagle Foundation for doing this. It’s ironic because our family reunion is this weekend,” said Sean Gibson. “Kadir is a good friend and he did a phenomenal job. And this wax sculpture is fantastic. I really like the pose because it’s unique, showing him ready to throw out a runner. Now he’s here in the company of Franco, Mr. Rogers and George Washington. It’s a great week for the Gibson family.”

Sean Gibson’s great-aunt, Annie Carter, said she was pleased with the statue.

“It’s a very good sculpture, and you know Sean is the spitting image of my uncle,” she said. “I was at all the games. I saw him in his prime, he just had a natural ability and he love the game.”

Chaz Kellum, Pittsburgh Pirates manager of diversity initiatives, was thrilled with the statue and the exhibit.

“This is awesome. These paintings are incredibly impactful,” he said. “The Pirates are proud to be part of this. We should make sure young people get here to see it.”

Looking at the sculpture, which took about three months to complete, Heinz Center President and CEO Andy Masich said he understands how Gibson would have been so intimidating to opposing players.

“They did a really great job,” he said. “

Sports Museum Director Anne Madarasz said Nelson’s painting are transformative.

“Kadir’s work is about shadows and light. And with this he has taken a story that was largely in the shadows and brought it into the light,” she said. “He’s taken a story that was only told in black and white, and given it color.”

The exhibit, which also includes items such as Gibson’s 1930 ID card from Westinghouse Air Brake, One of Satchel Paige’s gloves and a Grays uniform that belonged to Euthumn Napier who backed up Gibson at catcher. The exhibit runs through August 26.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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