Champ's artistic side to be displayed at Muhammad Ali Center

This image released by the Muhammad Ali Center, shows original artwork created by boxing great Muhammad Ali. When Ali wasn't jabbing or dancing in the ring, he sometimes dabbled as an artist. Now, 15 drawings created by the boxing great are heading to the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., the center announced Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. The Ali originals are being donated by the foundation created by the artist LeRoy Neiman, a longtime Ali friend. (Muhammad Ali/Muhammad Ali Center via AP)
This image released by the Muhammad Ali Center, shows original artwork created by boxing great Muhammad Ali. When Ali wasn't jabbing or dancing in the ring, he sometimes dabbled as an artist. Now, 15 drawings created by the boxing great are heading to the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., the center announced Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. The Ali originals are being donated by the foundation created by the artist LeRoy Neiman, a longtime Ali friend. (Muhammad Ali/Muhammad Ali Center via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Muhammad Ali wasn't jabbing or dancing in the ring, he sometimes liked dabbling as an artist.

Now, 15 drawings created by The Greatest are being donated to the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The Ali originals are coming from the foundation created by the artist LeRoy Neiman and his wife. Ali gave the artwork to Neiman, his longtime friend, as gifts.

On what would have been Ali's 75th birthday, the LeRoy Neiman Foundation said Tuesday it will donate 21 Ali-related works of art valued at more than $500,000 to the Ali Center. The three-time heavyweight champion and humanitarian died last June after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

The donated works include two Neiman paintings of the champ, including his famed "Athlete of the Century" piece that has been on loan and displayed at the cultural center and museum since 2005. Neiman, who died in 2012, said the painting summed up "the quintessential, colorful, confident Ali." Other items in the donated collection include two pieces by Ali's father, Cassius Clay Sr., and one that Ali and a friend drew.

Ali Center President and CEO Donald Lassere called it a "poignant, timely and prized gift" as the celebrated Ali's birthday and legacy.

The donated pieces will likely be showcased at a future special exhibit at the Ali Center, officials said. It will give fans of the champ a chance to size up his skills as an artist. The Ali originals — done in pastel, water color, pen, marker and crayon — were created between 1964 and 2005.

The drawings range in size and quality, said Tara Zabor, curator of the Neiman Foundation collection. Some represented his predictions for upcoming fights. In honor of his friend, the crowds in his fight scenes would include a mustachioed Neiman.

Neiman met Ali, whose father was an artist, in 1962 in the dressing room at a New York City arena before a bout. The artist sketched the young heavyweight sitting on the rubbing table. The two formed a long friendship and sometimes drew together between matches and workouts.

Neiman Foundation President Steven Bond said the Ali originals will shed light on the boxer's artistic side.

"These sketches in some ways were pretty bare bones, consisting of black-and-white stick figures, posed and dramatic moments from previous fights," Bond said. "But don't let the simplicity fool you. The playful works ... offer up fresh readings of Ali's personal history."

Neiman was best known for his brilliantly colored images of sporting events and leisure activities. His subjects included a long roster of famous athletes.

Last year, a print of a Neiman painting of Ali was stolen from an Ali Center exhibit while it was open to the public. The print, showing Ali in a classic boxing pose, was valued at $5,000. An arrest was made in late 2016 in Pennsylvania, but the artwork was not recovered.

Neiman Foundation officials said the donation announced Tuesday was planned before the theft.

Since the Ali Center's opening, the LeRoy Neiman Gallery featuring dozens of Neiman prints has been a popular attraction.

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