The Seattle Art Museum finds itself in a lucky position to bring together three key works of American art that have, each in their own way and in their own time, defined a nation through the American institution of baseball.
Each of the three artists—Douglas Tilden, Norman Rockwell and Jacob Lawrence—has employed an artistic language that served his particular aims: to idealize American youth and establish a common identity in the decades after the Civil War; to naturalistically convey character and amuse an American public in need of comic relief from the world-shaking events of the 1940s; and, finally, to suggest the speed and agility essential to the active sport while simultaneously showing that anyone, regardless of his race, could be a national hero through "our national game." Each of these works encapsulates the nation's values that were at times either reinforced or challenged by the sport of baseball in America.
The game of baseball has changed little since its introduction in the nineteenth century, but its enduring popularity reveals the extent to which the culture of baseball has continually evolved to reflect our ever-changing culture. Few objects convey the forces that shaped American baseball and American society as eloquently as the three works of art that SAM is privileged to show. These works, brought together in this way, tell so clearly and fully the story of when and how America’s favorite pastime became reflective of all America.
—Patricia Junker, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art
To explore this exhibition a little deeper, download our bibliography. Teachers, integrate Our National Game into your classroom with the Our National Game Educator Resource List.
Our National Game (The Ball Player), Douglas Tilden, American, 1860–1935, modeled 1888–89, bronze, overall: 34 1/4 x 15 1/2 x 9 1/2in., Private Collection, Seattle, Washington, Photo: Nathaniel Willson