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Pasadena painter's traveling show knocks the ball out of the park

March 14, 2014|By Kirk Silsbee
  • Paintings from "Purpose Pitch: Ben Sakoguchi and the Baseball Reliquary," now on display at the Arcadia Public Library.
Paintings from "Purpose Pitch: Ben Sakoguchi and… (Courtesy of Jan…)

To call the sandy-haired Terry Cannon a baseball fan is to damn with faint praise. He's a baseball obsessive. But Cannon is no Rain Man with batting averages, career wins and losses, and career RBIs rolling around in his head. He's fascinated with the little-known sociopolitical aspects of the national pastime's history. Which is where the Baseball Reliquary, his "traveling museum of baseball," comes in.

Cannon is something of a Renaissance man and his name should be familiar to the Pasadena arts community. He was a major mover in the old Pasadena Film Forum of the late 1970s and early '80s. Cannon also published GOSH! and Follies, printed forums for all manner of renegade artists and writers. Then there was Skinned Knuckles, his journal of automotive repair.

Cannon looked for a way to combine his two great passions, art and baseball, and in 1996 he founded the Baseball Reliquary, a nonprofit educational concern. "I looked at what David Wilson did with his Jurassic Technology Museum," the 60-year old Pasadena resident points out, "and used the traveling show as a model."

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The Reliquary has a quirky history, like its Shrine of the Eternals, a hall of fame that doesn't use statistics as a yardstick. Some 300 baseball writers, experts and fans around the country have voted in 45 luminaries. George "Dummy" Hoy is one of the Eternals: he was the first deaf major leaguer. So is Emmet Ashford, the first black major league umpire, as is Lester Rodney, the Daily Worker correspondent who agitated for desegregation beginning in the 1930s. Dock Ellis, who threw a no-hitter on LSD, is an Eternal, as is owner Bill Veck, who signed a midget player with a microscopic strike zone.

One constant in the Reliquary exhibitions has been the paintings of Ben Sakoguchi. The Pasadena painter had handled politically charged work since the 1960s (he earned his B.F.A. in 1960 and a M.F.A. in 1964 from UCLA). Sometime in the '70s, he began using orange crate art as a format for serial meditations on historical themes. Sakoguchi has essayed the history of slavery, warfare, and the internment of Japanese-Americans as long-form series. Baseball is another subject for Sakoguchi: To date he's completed over 200 canvases that examine horsehide subject matter.

Cannon has just opened a Reliquary exhibition of Sakoguchi's baseball paintings at Arcadia Public Library. It runs through April 29.

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