Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 12, 2010

Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney

Peter and I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum to see Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney, a wonderful retrospective, which will be there through May of next year. Four rooms were dedicated to Jerry Pinkney’s work, celebrating 45 years of work on paper.

The show highlights his illustrations for children’s books, but also shows work he did in the past for postage stamps and more recent paintings for historic sites such as the African Burial Ground Interpretive Center in New York. The exhibit includes some sketches beside finished paintings, and shows some of his process for coming up with the cover for The Old African by Julius Lester.

I enjoyed the informative signs along the paintings, mostly pen or ink with watercolor, and learned some about Jerry Pinkney’s life. Trips to art museums weren’t part of his childhood, but he was influenced by story telling, a skill he felt both parents brought with them from the South to Philadelphia. Living with a big family in a small house, his sketchbooks became a place for his private life. His father’s work included repairing appliances and houses, and Jerry did some of his early sketches on back of leftover wallpaper. He pays homage to his upbringing in family centered stories, some written by his wife, Gloria Jean Pinkney. We also see illustrations for Home Place, written by Crescent Dragonwagon. For endpapers, Jerry Pinkney painted wallpaper with patterns remembered from childhood.

Jerry Pinkney focused on design and illustration in high school and college. He got first professional job at a greeting card company before going into advertising. He illustrated his first of over a hundred picture books, The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales by Joyce Cooper, in 1964. Inspired by N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, and Arthur Rackham, he went on to illustrate folk tales, history, both family and public, books about music and the frontier, books by contemporary writers, stories from the Bible, and books by writers of the past, including Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, and Aesop. The nearly wordless The Lion and the Mouse won many awards including the prestigious Caldecott Award last year.

What a wonderful show! Now I’m off to the library for a few of those hundred books I missed.


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