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Artist Ernie Barnes Remembers NCCU and NCCU Remembers Him


As part of North Carolina Central University’s Centennial Homecoming, a tribute to the late artist and athlete, Ernie Barnes was already in the works when the university received word from his estate that Barnes had bequeathed books and artwork to his alma mater.

A special ceremony will take place at NCCU’s Art Museum, October 30, 2009, at 3 p.m. Curator Kenneth Rodgers will preside over the unveiling of the exhibit and the dedication. Barnes’ widow and trustee, Bernie, his children and his brother, Jimmy will attend. Chancellor Charlie Nelms, NCCU’s Board of Trustees, Art Department Chair Melvin Carver, representatives of the museum’s Advisory Board and Ingrid Wicker-McCree, director of athletics, will also be in attendance.

A value has been placed on the bequest of $200 thousand. The books, from the Barnes Book Collection and Fine Art Library, will be housed in a special section of NCCU’S library dedicated to Barnes as part of the trust agreement.

“We are overwhelmed by Ernie’s generosity. It is a wonderful gift to receive. Every bequest is significant, but this is monumental and meaningful for the university and the community,” Chancellor Nelms said.

Ernie Barnes died in April at the age of 70. The Durham native was an art student and a gifted athlete. His talent as an athlete at North Carolina College (now NCCU) led him from the Washington Redskins to the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in 1960. Barnes played with the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos.

Barnes never lost his love of art, painting and sketching. He put away his gladiator’s uniform to become the official artist for the American Football League. The owner of the New York Jets paid Ernie’s salary to launch his career as a full-fledged artist.

According to NCCU Art Museum Director Kenneth Rodgers, elongated figures distinguish his signature style termed “neo-mannerist.” “He’s probably head and shoulders above mainstream African-American artists in terms of his originality, and his ability to touch the universal in the lives of Americans through the vehicle of the African-American experience,” said Rodgers.

Barnes’ painting The Advocate was donated to the NCCU Law School in 1998 by Mrs. Donna Arnold in memory of her late husband Danny and it hangs in the Law School Library. However, much of Barnes’ work showcases the worlds of sports and entertainment and has been seen by millions around the world. Barnes’ painting, The Sugar Shack, became a cultural icon serving to announce the opening credits of the 1970s television series Good Times and gracing the cover of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You.

Many describe Barnes’s work as power in motion; that power will be on display at NCCU—where fans can pay homage to the artist and Eagle.

Photo credit: Chan Bush

Published: Tuesday, October 13, 2009
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