The newest exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts, “Play Ball!”, is one of the first to commemorate baseball. It primarily features memorabilia from E. Powell Miller as a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tigers winning the 1968 World Series.
It purposefully opened on March 29, in conjunction with the scheduled opening day of the 2018 Tigers’ season.
The exhibit displays two art pieces and a collection of rare baseball cards that belong to E. Powell Miller, a lawyer from Rochester, MI. The exhibit intertwines baseball, visual culture and the fine arts with pieces of art that have themes of baseball, mixed with sport memorabilia.
“It’s a great time to see this collection of baseball cards,” curator Nancy Barr said. “It also gives a chance for the people to see other memorabilia and some history of baseball.”
Each of the baseball cards on display were found in cigarette packs that were produced by the American Tobacco Company in 1909 and 1911. These notable collector’s items are extremely hard to come by.
Miller started his collection when he was a teenager, but he threw it out later. Afterwards, he returned to collecting them in the 1980s. He is one of the very few people who own this collection of T206 cards.
If confused while reading the cards, the DIA provides a cheat sheet in order to understand how the cards are read. It includes where things such as the card title, series name, the professional grading, etc. of the card to allow the viewer to decipher it.
Miller’s collection includes the cards of famous players such as Eddie Plank, Ty Cobb, Joe Doyle. Cards of players like Honus Wagner are very rare because there are only 73 other cards known to exist. Eddie Plank and Honus Wagner are the cards that are most sought out for because of how rare it is to actually own them.
Wagner was one of the first players to make the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Ty Cobb, another player whose rare card is in the T206 set. Wagner’s card is one of the rarest and most valuable to own in the world. Plank was the first left-handed pitcher to win 200 games and ranks third in all-time wins as a left-hander. Plank made the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. His card is the second rarest baseball card in the world.
The exhibit also showcases Al Kaline memorabilia which features a baseball signed by Kaline and his 1958 Topps baseball card along with many other pieces of Miller’s memorabilia collection.
The museum also features two permanent pieces of the DIA which include Guatemalan artist Dario Escobar’s newly acquired piece “Paisaje Urbano (Detroit) 2017.”
“He cut some of the bats so they could shape the skyline of the city,” said Barr.
The other piece is by artist Robert Moskowitz, “Hard Ball III (1993).” The hyper-realistic piece is meant to make the viewer feel as if the ball in the painting is coming towards them. This oil-on-canvas piece was moved from its original spot in the DIA to the exhibit.
“We started putting this exhibit together in May of 2017,” said Barr. “We are looking forward to seeing the reactions to it since it’s the first-time baseball will be on display at the DIA.”
Although “Hard Ball III” and “Paisaje Urbano (Detroit)” will be a part of the DIA’s permanent collection, the exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to see the pieces among one of the only three baseball collections in the world.
The “Play Ball!” exhibit is open until September 16, 2018. For more information, visit dia.org.