As D.C. gears up to host its first Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game of the Washington Nationals era on July 17, one local artist hopes to highlight the contributions of African Americans to the sport.
Larry Saxton spent two years developing a collection devoted to the contributions of Black baseball players and fans to the sport. Named “America’s Pastime,” the collection was inspired by his childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, during a time when African American baseball teams thrived and Black fans heavily supported them.
The series of eight mixed-medium acrylic paint and tissue paper pieces depicts fictitious Black baseball players in the jerseys of real Negro Leagues baseball teams including the D.C. Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Atlanta Crackers.
He said he wanted to pay tribute to the Black baseball player on the Negro Leagues teams who contributed to making the sport “America’s pastime.”
“It’s such a push to get minorities into the sport now, but when I was growing up baseball was king,” Saxton said. “Growing up, we played baseball from sunup to sundown, and all of our athletic heroes were in baseball.”
Saxton, who finished the series in May, said the District’s hosting of the All-Star game also inspired him to highlight the contributions of African Americans to baseball even before the sport was integrated and Black players could play in the Major League.
“When I heard the All-Star game was coming to D.C. two or three years ago, I thought this would be a good collection to work on because D.C., as well as Kansas City, has a great history with the Negro Baseball League,” Saxton said. “As an artist you want to leave something behind when you are gone, and I want to recognize the contributions on African Americans to baseball.”
The Negro leagues were professional baseball leagues of team made up of African Americans and, to a lesser extent, Latin Americans. The term is broadly used, but often used to describe seven successful leagues beginning in 1920 that are sometimes referred to as the “Negro Major Leagues.” The leagues bought the thrill of baseball to major urban cities and countrysides, nationwide while maintaining a high level of skill in the sport and helping along economic development in Black communities.
MLB’s Brooklyn Dodgers recruited Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs, making him the first African American to play on a Major League Baseball roster. Eventually, Negro leagues declined, but their legacy lives on.
Saxton settled in D.C. after service in the U.S. Navy in 1971. He later received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design before pursuing a master’s at Howard University.
While studying the Corcoran, Saxton studied American and European artists and became inspired by the work of Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky. At Howard, he studied African art, which he said was deeply self-reflective and contributed to his level of self-understanding and his conceptualization of art. He said meeting Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Sebree in D.C. also influenced his art.
Saxton resides in Northeast with his wife, Tanyna Saxton. His artwork can be found in corporate and private collections throughout the country and can be found on his site saxtonsart.com.