Ernie Barnes: Official Artist Of the AFL
I always find it interesting to see how athletes touch lives beyond the playing field. RetroCards features former pro football player Ernie Barnes in this entry. Though the average sports fan may not know him for his athletic contribution, they may have seen his work in television shows, in films, or on album covers. Ernie Barnes played seven years of professional football, mainly in the old AFL, but became more known as a serious artist, dipicting African-American life in many of his paintings. The most famous of his paintings was called “Sugar Shack,” which featured prominently the 70s sitcom Good Times as well as on the cover of the Marvin Gaye album I Want You (1976). Originally an unathletic child, he became captain of the football team in high school and state champion in the shot put. Ernie got a scholarship to North Carolina College at Durham, an all-black college (formerly North Carolina College for Negroes, now Carolina Central University). The Washington Redskins drafted him in the 8th round of the 1959 draft but renounced the pick when they realized he was black. The NFL Champion Colts then picked him in the 10th round. While standing on the sidelines of the 1959 Championship game vs. the Giants, an emotion-filled Barnes rushed home to paint “The Bench” showing his teammates watching the game from the sideline. This painting, which Barnes always kept for himself, was donated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Not making the last cut with the Colts in 1960, he signed with the new AFL’s New York Titans. After the death of teammate Howard Glenn in early October, 1960, he asked for his release. He was quickly signed by the Chargers and was added to the taxi-squad. There he made a a close friendship with quarterback Jack Kemp. During this time, Ernie illustrated several articles for the San Diego Magazine in the off-season. After being cut, he signed with the Denver Broncos. Nicknamed “Big Rembrandt,” he was often fined for sketching in team meetings. In 1965 while with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, Ernie fractured his foot, effectively ending his career. Shortly after, he went to the AFL owners meeting in Houston in hopes of becoming the leagues official artist. In an unlikely turn, New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin kept Ernie on salary as a player, but used him for his artistic skill. Werblin saw his potential and his value to the country as a painter. Timeline of Ernie Barnes career: • Barnes sold his first painting Slow Dance at age 21 in 1959 for $90 to Boston Celtic, Sam Jones • In 1971 Barnes wrote a series of essays (illustrated with his own drawings) in the Gridiron newspaper titled I Hate the Game I Love • Barnes created the painting The Sugar Shack in 1971. It gained international exposure when it was used on the Good Times television series and on the 1976 Marvin Gaye album I Want You. • Jack Kemp and Ethel Kennedy, co-hosted an exhibition of his work in 1974. autobiography, published in 1995 titled From Pads to Palette • 1993 In 1993 Barnes was selected to the “Black College Football 100th Year All-Time Team” by the Sheridan Broadcasting Network. Barnes’ work appears on the following album covers: • The Sugar Shack painting on Marvin Gaye’s 1976 I Want You • The Disco painting on self-titled 1978 Faith, Hope & Charity • Donald Byrd and 125th Street, NYC painting on self-titled 1979 album • Late Night DJ painting on Curtis Mayfield’s 1980 Something to Believe In • The Maestro painting on The Crusaders’ 1984 Ghetto Blaster • Head Over Heels painting on The Crusaders’ 1986 The Good and Bad Times • In Rapture painting on B.B. King’s 2000 Making Love is Good For You As an actor TV shows: • To Tell the Truth • Good Times As a film actor: • Movies: Number One • Doctor’s Wives • Super Comedy Bowl • Don’t Look Back Artwork also featured in television shows: • Good Times • White Shadow • Columbo • Dream On • The Hughleys • The Wayans Bros. • Wife Swap • Soul Food Ernie passed away on April 27, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Visit the Official Ernie Barnes website for the complete story on his life.