Durham native Ernie Barnes might have been from a neighborhood called the Bottoms, but he propelled his way to the top using sports and art. He was nurtured by a mother determined to expose him to a larger world and by a supportive segregated black community.
Barnes, who would have celebrated his 80th birthday July 15, will be remembered through his paintings. “The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes” exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of History opens June 29 and runs through March 3.
The show features 37 oil and acrylic paintings, including a reproduction of his most famous painting, “The Sugar Shack,” which many people saw for the first time on soul singer Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” album cover and during the closing credits of “Good Times,” the television sitcom that ran from 1974 to 1979.
In addition, 20 of Barnes’ artifacts will be on display, including his painting palette, brushes and blocked letters he earned as a football player at Hillside High School in Durham.
“Although I never got a chance to meet Ernie in person, I was so honored to be able to work on this exhibit, because now I feel like I do know him,” said Katie Edwards, the museum’s pop culture curator. “He was a remarkable human being who defied odds and became a renowned artist. This exhibit is an amazing opportunity for the state of North Carolina. It’s a chance for visitors to see a number of Ernie’s works that he painted throughout his life and see the impact that the state had on him and his career.”
Edwards says the works are divided into three sections: Durham roots, his NFL career and his artistic journey.
“The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes” exhibition opens at the North Carolina Museum of History, 5 E E.denton St., Raleigh, June 29 and runs through March 3. Admission is free.
Children’s book author Sandra Neil Wallace will be in town for the exhibit opening to sign her new children’s book, “Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery,” on June 30 from 2:30-4 p.m.
For details, go to ncmuseumofhistory.org/ernie-barnes.