Father's Day Flashbacks: Creating a Connection through Sports

SAAM public relations specialist Rebekah Mejorado remembers the father figure in her life through artworks featuring sports

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Joseph Rugolo, Mural of Sports, ca. 1937-1938, oil on linen, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the Newark Museum, 1966.31.16

As for many people, Father’s Day has always been a bit of a struggle for me. It was made even harder when I lost my beloved stepfather in 2017. Looking back on the 30 years we had together, I am amazed to think of all the ways he left an indelible impression on me. He was a deeply curious person, always wanting to learn more about the world around him. Even early on, when we all felt the struggles of blending a family, he and I easily found common ground in sharing books, discussing history, and going to museums. He would have been so proud and excited to see me join the SAAM team and to live a life surrounded by art.

However, when I think back on our time together, it is surprisingly his love of sports that may have brought us our deepest connection. My childhood memories are filled with family outings to games and bonding over the drama that only sports can bring. I have carried my stepdad’s passionate enthusiasm for all sports into my adulthood. So, this year for Father’s Day, I would like to invite you to take your father on a online tour of sports at SAAM. Try searching the collection for the word “sport,” “golf,” “boxer,” or even “fishing.” Whatever the interest, you are sure to find artworks that will delight the father figure in your life.

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Morris Kantor, Baseball at Night, 1934, oil on linen, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Morris Kantor, 1976.146.18

Baseball at Night takes me back to the countless hours of my childhood that were spent at the ballpark. Together we watched our Atlanta Braves go from worst to first at the old Fulton County Stadium, followed by years of thrills watching our team in the playoffs. The soundtrack of my youth is punctuated by listening to baseball on the radio, which I vividly remember hating. Now, thanks to the internet, you will usually find me listening to baseball, soccer, and football games while I drive. It is really true that we turn into our parents.

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Harold E. Edgerton, (Football Kick), 1938, printed 1984, dye transfer print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Young, 1991.89.11

Like many American southerners, fall weekends for my stepdad and I revolved around football. We cheered as our college teams succeeded on Saturdays and lamented many painful seasons with our Atlanta Falcons on Sundays. Exploring SAAM’s collection of football artwork will yield a surprising number of results, but I would have been excited to show him (Football Kick) by Harold E. Edgerton, a photographer and an innovator who, like my stepdad, was an electrical engineer by trade.

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David Levinthal, Untitled from the series Hockey, 2007, Polaroid Polacolor ER Land Film, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of an anonymous donor, 2017.32.193, © 2007, David Levinthal

Yes, we even cheered at Atlanta’s failed attempts to play hockey. To this day, I still say attending minor league hockey games might be the most underrated sports experience there is.

The more I search the collection, the more the memories come flooding back: the thrill of attending the 1996 Olympics that I recall when I look at William Zorach’s Kiener Memorial, (Long Distance Runner) or (Olympic Runner) or Reginald Marsh’s Golf Course Scene, which reminds me of watching Sunday afternoons of the Masters, the only day of the year that my stepdad made it a commitment to watch golf on TV. It is a tradition that I continue to this day and one that I hope my daughter will someday appreciate.