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Canton Museum of Art celebrates a major football-themed art exhibit
Ernie Barnes (American, 1938-2009), Fumble in the Line, 1990. Acrylic on canvas ©Ernie Barnes Family Trust. Courtesy of the University Art Museum, Colorado State University, and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon.


CANTON, OH.- Scrimmage: Football in American Art from the Civil War to Present is the first comprehensive assembly of work by prominent American artists focusing on football. This exciting new exhibition is on view August 1 – October 29, 2017 with a special public reception on August 10 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Canton Museum of Art. Scrimmage allows audiences from around the country to discover and explore football and art in a community steeped in both. 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.

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, Scrimmage 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.

There are works by artists such as Winslow Homer and J.C. Leyendecker which illustrate the concept of the “strenuous life” championed by President Teddy Roosevelt, while works by Andy Warhol and Red Grooms embody the celebrity athlete that is so prominent today. Other artists address issues of class, gender and violence as they relate to the sport of football. Some works, such as Frederic Remington’s Touchdown, Yale vs. Princeton, are straightforward depictions of the early days of the sport, while others offer more ambiguous commentaries on football’s meaning in the larger society, including the evolution of the game and race relations on (and off) the field.

This exhibition 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.

The exhibition is not meant to present a history of football – the development of rules and gradual changes in play, the history of teams or players – but instead offers a window to understanding themes central to American life, both past and current. As such, the exhibition explores these images from multiple perspectives and themes. The Canton Museum of Art invites visitors to engage in a dialogue – with works of important American artists as a springboard – about sports, art, and their roles in our history and culture, and to reflect on how these images reveal attitudes and transitions in American life. The exhibition 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 exhibition 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. The exhibition 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.

Athleticism
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.





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