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PRESS ROOM: CAAM Presents Exhibition On The Life And Art Of Ernie Barnes

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — The California African American Museum (CAAM) announced today that it will present an exhibition that examines the life, art, and popularity of Ernie Barnes.



By Sentinel News Service

The California African American Museum (CAAM) announced today that it will present an exhibition that examines the life, art, and popularity of Ernie Barnes, who created some of the twentieth century’s most iconic images of African American life. Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective will be on display from May 8–September 8, 2019.

George O. Davis, Executive Director of CAAM said, “We are honored to present the work of Ernie Barnes and to tell the fascinating life story of this artist and athlete. He was a child of the segregated south who came to call Los Angeles home.”

For fans of 1970s American television, Ernie Barnes’s (1938–2009) painting The Sugar Shack is likely familiar. The 1976 work depicting a dance scene—which was the cover art for Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You—achieved cult status by regularly appearing on the hit sitcom Good Times, inspiring a community of television viewers who discussed it after each episode.

Known for his unique “neo-mannerist” approach of presenting figures through elongated forms, he captured his observations of life growing up in North Carolina, playing professional football in the NFL (1960–1964), and living in Los Angeles. Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective includes examples of his paintings of entertainment and music, and also highlights how Barnes, the official artist of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, extensively represented athletes and sports.

“While not widely known within the mainstream art world, Barnes is revered by a diverse group of collectors and admirers across the country,” said guest curator Bridget R. Cooks, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Art History at the University of California, Irvine. Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective is curated by Cooks with assistance from Vida L Brown, Visual Arts Curator and Program Manager. The Pasadena Museum of California Art originated the exhibition.

About the Artist

Ernie Barnes was born July 15, 1938 in Durham, North Carolina during the height of the Jim Crow Era. He lived in a section of the city called “The Bottom” with his parents and younger brother, James. His father, Ernest Barnes, Sr. was a shipping clerk for Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company. His mother, Fannie Geer, supervised the household for a prominent attorney who shared his extensive art book collection with the young “June” Barnes.

Bullied as a child for being shy and sensitive, Barnes found solace in drawing. In his freshman year, a weightlifting coach put Barnes on a fitness program, which taught him effort and discipline. By his senior year at segregated Hillside High School in Durham, Barnes was captain of the football team and state champion in the shot put. He earned a full athletic scholarship to North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) where his art instructor, sculptor Ed Wilson, encouraged him to create images from his own life experiences

In 1960, Barnes was one of thirty African Americans drafted into the National Football League, one of nine players selected that year from a Historically Black College and University. For five seasons, Barnes was an offensive lineman for the New York Titans, San Diego Chargers, and Denver Broncos. In 1965 New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin paid Barnes a season’s salary “to paint” and subsequently sponsored the first Ernie Barnes gallery exhibition. After the success of the show, Barnes retired from football at age twenty-eight and settled in Los Angeles to devote himself to art.

From his sports experience and the study of anatomy, Barnes’ unique style of elongation captures the movement, energy, and grace of his subjects. This earned him numerous awards, including “Sports Artist of the 1984 Olympic Games” and “2004 America’s Best Painter of Sports” from the American Sport Art Museum & Archives.He was commissioned to paint artwork for the National Basketball Association, Los Angeles Lakers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders, educational institutions, corporations, musicians, celebrities, and professional athletes. His beloved painting, “The Bench,” which Barnes created in 1959 before his rookie season, was presented in 2014 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His pride of North Carolina is evident in his artwork of pool halls, barbershops, porch ladies, church, street singers, sandlot games, and other memories of growing up in the South. His commentary on dance, music, sports, women, education, social justice, and everyday life continue to inspire viewers of all ages, races, religions, educational levels, and social statuses.

Barnes died of cancer on April 27, 2009.

Related Programs:

Friday, June 7, 2019 | 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Curatorial Walkthrough: Bridget R. Cooks 

Tour Ernie Barnes: A Retrospectivewith guest curator Bridget R. Cooks, Associate Professor, Departments of African American Studies and Department of Art History at the University of California, Irvine. Cooks will offer an in-depth look at the exhibition, which features paintings, drawings, and ephemera from Barnes’s life.

Thursday, June 13, 2019 | 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Marvin Gaye-Oke

Get ready for a Marvin Gaye–themed karaoke night celebrating the life and work of the late Ernie Barnes, led by soul singer Torrénce Brannon-reese!This night of song is presented in conjunction with Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective,which includes Barnes’s famous painting The Sugar Shack, which was featured on the cover of Gaye’s I Want You album.

About the California African American Museum
CAAM explores the art, history, and culture of African Americans, with an emphasis on California and the West. Chartered by the State of California in 1977, the Museum began formal operations in 1981 and is a state-supported agency and a Smithsonian Affiliate. In addition to presenting exhibitions and public programs, CAAM houses a permanent collection of more than four thousand works of art, artifacts, and historical documents, and a publicly accessible research library containing more than twenty thousand volumes.

Visitor Information 
Admission to the California African American Museum is free. Visit for current exhibition and program information or call 213-744-7432 for tours or additional assistance.

Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Closed Mondays and national holidays. The California African American Museum is located in Exposition Park at the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, west of the 110 (Harbor) Freeway. Easy parking is available for $12 (cash only) at 39thand Figueroa Streets. The Metro Expo line stop Expo Park/USC is a five-minute walk through the Exposition Park Rose Garden to the Museum.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel


David Drake: A Potter Who Inscribed His Work With Poetry

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”



A pot created by David Drake. Wikipedia photo.

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”
According to some collectors and scholars, this message demonstrates “Drake questioning his heritage and personal history … signifies [his] positivity despite facing the many brutalities of slavery, including the loss of personal identity.” Further, by etching what is clearly a personal expression, Drake defied a South Carolina law forbidding Blacks to read and write.
South Carolina’s Negro Act of 1740, prohibited educating enslaved Africans, punishable by a fine of 100 pounds and six months in prison. Most Southern states in the early 1800s restricted Black literacy.
Drake’s date of birth is unclear. It is said that it was during the first half of 1800. The first legal record of him (June 13, 1818) describes “a boy about 17 years old country born … mortgaged to Eldrid Simkins by Harvey Drake.”
The (Harvey) Drake family owned a plantation in Edgefield, S.C. The term “country born” refers to enslaved Blacks born in the United States rather than Africa. David Drake lived and worked in Edgefield’s pottery factories for almost all his life.
David Drake was first enslaved by Harvey Drake, who alongside Abner Landrum, owned a large pottery business. Known to be a religious man, Landrum was the publisher of a local newspaper, The Edgefield Hive. Scholars speculate that he taught Drake to read the Bible, even if doing so was a punishable offense.
After Harvey Drake’s death, David Drake was enslaved by Landrum. In 1846, Landrum passed away. Drake was then purchased and enslaved by Landrum’s son Franklin, who was abusive. While owned by Franklin, Drake never inscribed his works. But Drake’s life, his works, blossomed in 1849, when he was sold to Lewis Miles.
Miles owned the pottery factory, Stony Bluff. There Drake created his best works once again inscribed with poetry. The number of pieces produced increased from one every few years to seven in 1859. Having produced alkaline-glazed stoneware jugs between the 1820s and the 1870s, Drake is recognized as the first enslaved potter to inscribe his work. He became a free man when the Civil War closed (1865).
According to Drake scholar Jill Beute Koverman, Drake created “more than 40,000 pieces over his lifetime.”
When Drake was alive, his pots sold for around 50 cents. Today they fetch as much as $50,000 and have auctioned for as much as $369,000. A butter churn with the inscription “This is a noble churn / fill it up it will never turn,” sold for $130,000.
Various collections including his work can be viewed at museums including the Smithsonian collection of the National Museum of American History in Wash., D.C.
It is thought that Drake died in the 1870s because according to scholars, “he is not found in the 1880 census.”

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Alameda County Arts Commission Public Art Call for Artists – One more week to apply!

The application deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 2021 (10:59pm Pacific Time). For more information about the Call for Artists, please visit the Alameda County Arts Commission’s website at



ACAC-Public Art Call for Artists

The Alameda County Arts Commission invites visual artists to submit an application to the new Alameda County Artist Registry, a prequalified list of artists that will be used for upcoming public art opportunities managed by the Alameda County Arts Commission. Public art opportunities will include outdoor and indoor projects with a range of budgets and will be appropriate for artists working in a variety of materials and styles.

The Artist Registry will be primarily used to commission visual artists to create new artwork, however, there may be opportunities to purchase or license existing artwork. Artists interested in being considered for public art opportunities with the Alameda County Arts Commission during the next three to four years should apply.

View the complete Call for Artists for details and additional eligibility requirements at Applications for the Artist Registry must be submitted online through the CaFÉ™ website at

The application deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 2021 (10:59pm Pacific Time). For more information about the Call for Artists, please visit the Alameda County Arts Commission’s website at

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My Park Moment Photo show opens in San Francisco Presidio

While a lot of establishments such as restaurants, movies, amusement parks and places where people gather were closed for the past 18 months because of COVID-19, one of the few places people were able to enjoy themselves was at parks.



Courtesy of Lee Hubbard

While a lot of establishments such as restaurants, movies, amusement parks and places where people gather were closed for the past 18 months because of COVID-19, one of the few places people were able to enjoy themselves was at parks.

The New York based non-profit Photoville wanted to highlight this. With a partnership with the San Francisco Presidio Trust, Photoville presented the My Park Moment photo show, which celebrates people loving parks.  

The photo show features pictures of people at parks throughout the United States. The exhibit at the Presidio is spread out over 14 acres of new parkland with trails over tunnel tops creating scenic overlooks and picnic sites in a dramatic display of public art. It will be up from now until August of 2022.

“This exhibit is a celebration of community,” said Michael Boland, chief Park Development and Visitor Engagement officer at Presidio Trust. “It shows how we as Americans can enjoy open spaces. How people can have fun, get fit, fall in love and do a lot of things outside at parks.”

There were 7,000 photo submissions from professional photographers to people with cell phones, of which 400 were selected for the exhibit. The photos were picked by a committee of artists, photographers, and cultural critics from throughout the Bay Area. 

Outside of the 400 pictures used in the show, four photographers who submitted multiple works were given stipends and highlighted for their work as Visual Story Award winners.

One of the Visual Story Award winners was Sheilby Macena, an Oakland photographer, who has 12 pictures in the My Park Moment exhibit. Her work focuses on the citizens of Oakland and specifically, the merchants at Lake Merritt during the pandemic.

“My work comes from the exhibit Black Joy at Lake Merritt, which shows Black people at the Lake, during the pandemic, particularly along sellers’ row,” said Macena.

Sellers Row was a group of 20 to 50 vendors who set up along Grand Avenue and Lake Shore Drive in Oakland by Lake Merritt. This scene would often conflict with many of the new residents in the area.

“My pictures showed Black life and it was a great way to document folks. It was a fun time, but you knew it wasn’t going to last,” continued Macena.

It didn’t. Nearby residents complained and media attention was brought to the Lake. Today, vendors at the Lake are required to have permits and there is a heavier police presence then what was taking place during the pandemic.

“The pandemic was hard on people and parks,” continued Boland. “Parks for some were the only outlet for people.”

Marissa Leshnov also had her work featured in the Presidio exhibit one Visual Story Award winners. Her work profiled the Oakland OMies, which showed a group of Black women practicing restorative yoga in the Presidio.

“These women came together as Black women, supporting each other and promoting wellness,” said Leshnov. “It’s important that people see themselves reflected in the art and I hope this brings people out to the Presidio to see the exhibit.”

The San Francisco Post’s coverage of local news in San Francisco County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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