Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

Photographer Gordon Parks

May31

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman)

It’s always interesting to learn why an author chose to write about a particular subject. Carole Boston Weatherford explains that she met Gordon Parks, a photographer whom she admired, at an exhibit of his work. She had grown up viewing his photos in Life magazine. As an adult, her Aunt Helen told her about working with Parks in Washington, D.C. Weatherford has a picture of her aunt that may have been taken by Parks.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was a world-famous photographer, novelist, poet, musician, and film director. He was the youngest of fifteen children, and he was raised amid poverty and segregation. After both parents died, Parks was struggling to support himself when he was fifteen years old. He worked as a busboy, piano player, porter, and waiter. As a waiter in a railroad dining car, Parks noticed glossy photographs in magazines. He spent $7.50 to buy a used camera and taught himself how to use it. Parks was soon hired to shoot fashion and portraits.

When he moved to Chicago, Parks recorded the plights of impoverished families, and this earned him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C. It was there that he was once again struck by the poverty experienced by the black families who lived in the shadows in our nation’s capital.

Parks embarked on a mission to expose the racism that he saw, and he chronicled the life of Ella Watson, a cleaning woman in the building where he worked. Mrs. Watson supported herself, her grandchildren, and an adopted daughter on just $1000.00 a year. He had the idea to photograph Mrs. Watson in a pose reminiscent of Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic. (Photo taken from Wikipedia) Parks placed his subject in front of an American flag holding a mop and broom, and he titled the photo, American Gothic, Washington, D.C. This stark image engendered much discussion, and it became one of Park’s most noted works. While continuing his career as a fashion photographer, he went on to use his camera as an instrument of change by illustrating scenes of segregation and poverty.

Later in his life, Gordon Parks wrote a novel, The Learning Tree, which he also directed as a feature film. He was the director of the 1971 movie, Shaft. Gordon Parks became recognized, not only as an artist but also as a humanitarian.

 

 

Ernie Barnes – Athlete and Artist

May15

When I became an athlete, I didn’t stop being an artist. – Ernie Barnes

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster)

Perhaps it was kismet that Ernest Barnes (1938-2009) was born in 1938 on July 15th, the same date that Rembrandt was born in 1606. Ernest was a shy child who drew in the mud. He marveled at the paintings at the house where his mother was a housekeeper when he accompanied her to work. His mother knew of his love of art, and she also knew that Ernest wouldn’t be welcomed into art museums in the segregated South. As a plump and timid boy, he was sometimes taunted and bullied. Ernest began to carry a sketchbook with him, to escape that reality. He chronicled the everyday life that he saw – the junk man and families walking home from church.

When he was in high school, a weight coach discovered him off by himself and drawing. The coach convinced 6’3” Ernest to begin to fitness train in order to feel better about himself. He then joined the football team and excelled at the sport. By his senior year, he was the captain of the team, and he received twenty-six offers of scholarships from colleges to play football. Choosing North Carolina College at Durham, Ernest played football and studied art. One of his art teachers, Mr. Wilson, encouraged him to continue to look all around him and be inspired by what he saw.

Ernest was drafted to play professional football, and that’s when he became known as Ernie. Even when he was on the bench or in the midst of a game, he was inspired by the color and action around him. The sideline images inspired him to paint The Bench, which became a major piece in Barnes’ body of work. He never sold The Bench, and it is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

When his football career ended, Ernie was finally able to devote his life to his art. He continued to explore the beauty in scenes of everyday life. His work is characterized by movement and color. Ernie was asked to be the official artist of the 1984 Olympic Games because art critics called him “America’s best painter of sports”. However, Ernie tackled many subjects other than sports. His painting, Sugar Shack, appeared each week at the end of the popular 1970s television show, Good Times. When the star of the show, JJ, became an artist, it was Ernie’s paintings that were used. Marvin Gaye also featured Sugar Shack as the cover of his album, I Want You.

When he was in college, Ernie was at an art museum and questioned why artists of color weren’t represented there. A docent answered him, “Your people don’t express themselves in that way.” Ernie knew this wasn’t true, and today his work is owned and displayed by museums all over the United States.

Author Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier teamed up to introduce Ernie Barnes to young people. Adults should check out Between the Lines to share it with children and enjoy it themselves.

Louise Bourgeois

October14

clothLouise Bourgeois’ (1911-2010) art has been exhibited in museums all over the world. She worked in many mediums, although she is probably best known for her sculptures of spiders. In 2011, one of her works, Spider, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a woman’s piece of art, when it sold at auction for $10.7 million. In 2015, that same piece resold for $28.2 million. In Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers) the author explores Bourgeois’ life story. Louise was a young girl who was born in Paris into a family who restored tapestries, and she became one of the premier contemporary artists.

As a twelve year old, Louise learned the family trade, and she began to repair missing fragments of the tapestries that were brought to the shop. Her mother taught her about the styles of textiles, form, color, weaving, dyeing, and stitching. As a child, Louise also kept diaries of her thoughts and ideas. When she went to university in Paris, Louise first studied mathematics. After her mother’s death, she went to the Sorbonne where she became fascinated with sculpture as well as painting.

After moving to the United States with her husband and children before WWII, Louise struggled with entering the art exhibition world in a new country. As she explored new areas in her own work, she began to be recognized. Bourgeois exhibited and taught for years, and she influenced many other artists.

spiderSome of her signature pieces and themes are very large spiders. She wrote that (Drawing was) “like a thread in a spider’s web.” And “If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it.”

(Image taken from The Guardian)

Beatrix Potter

September2

BeatrixOne of the world’s most beloved author/illustrators, Beatrix Potter, was born on July 28, 1866. There have been numerous events this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth.

(Photo of Miss Potter taken from The National Trust & Frederick Warne Ltd.)
Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, were born to privilege, as their parents were quite wealthy. When they were growing up, they associated with few children of the same age as governesses educated them. However, they were encouraged to explore the natural world, especially during the summer on holidays, first in Scotland and then in the Lake District of England. It was here that Beatrix blossomed and recorded her observations of life.

One of Beatrix’s governesses was only three years older than her, and Annie Moore Carter acted as a lady’s companion to her. Annie and Beatrix became lifelong friends, and Miss Potter wrote entertaining letters illustrated with sketches to Annie’s children. In 1893, while she was on holiday, Potter composed a story to Annie’s son Noel, who was ill. She wrote about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.” This letter was the basis for Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

This talented artist, naturalist, and author went on to become a landowner, farmer, and conservationist in the Lake District. She purchased large plots of land to preserve the area. Her donation of her property to the National Trust is now included in the Lake District National Park.

One of her unpublished stories, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, which was written in 1941, is being published this month. The illustrations are by Quentin Blake, a contemporary British illustrator, who has written many children’s books.

As part of the celebration of her life, Penguin Random House commissioned street artist Marcus Crocker to give Potter’s characters a modern makeover. At first I was “put off” by this modernization, as I considered it a bit sacrilegious to mess around with Peter Rabbit, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Mrs. Tittlemouse. However, in reading about the new Potter figures, I found it interesting.
“The reimagined small versions of the familiar characters reflect the diminutive dimensions of the original Peter Rabbit stories, whilst some also contain a nod to Beatrix Potter’s varied accomplishments as a Conservationist; Botanist; Businesswoman; Artist; Storyteller all of which made her a woman ahead of her time… The figures were carefully crafted to ensure continuity with not only the characters’ own personality traits, but in some cases those of their original creator, in contemporary and surprising ways.”
(https://vimeo.com/168933897)

Lisa Houck

May12

flowers-grow-all-in-a-row-20One of our talented art teachers, Lisa Houck, has produced a colorful board book for toddlers and young children, Flowers Grow All in a Row flowers-grow-all-in-a-row-2page(Pomegranate Kids). The rhyming text compliments the bright illustrations that are made from white-line woodcuts. Working in this method is one of Lisa’s specialties, and she teaches it to our middle school students, as well as to adults in different venues. With traditional woodblocks, the artist cuts away the area around the drawing, and that cut away area becomes negative and does not accept the paint or ink. In white-line woodcutting, the outline of the design is cut or grooved which leaves a white line between the designs that accept the color. Flowers Grow All in a Row is a counting book illustrated with whimsical flowers.

lisa-houck-bright-world-coloring-book-70page-bright-world-coloring-book-72Lisa has also published a fun coloring book entitled Bright World (Pomegranate Kids). Both children and adults may enjoy this coloring book. Anyone who has discovered the peace that comes from coloring can recreate the colors that Lisa used in her illustrations or try their own combinations. If you know a child or adult who loves to color, Bright World would be a gift for them. Bright World and Flowers Grow All in a Row will be available to purchase at our book fair.

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Beatrix Potter

March10

peterJuly 28th will be the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. Many events are scheduled in Great Britain and the United States to celebrate her life.

Beatrix Potter, one of the world’s most famous storytellers, is celebrated in a new biography for our youngest readers. Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box was written and illustrated by David McPhail (Henry Holt, 2015). The author/illustrator used watercolor and ink on illustration board for the delightful artwork that is reminiscent of Potter’s own art.

beatrixMcPhail’s spare text begins by describing what life was like for children during the 19th century when nannies and tutors worked for wealthy families. The children sometimes spent a great deal of time exploring on their own. Beatrix was given her mother’s paint box when she was young, and the girl made her own sketchbooks out of paper and string. From the beginning, Beatrix drew and painted animals and scenes from nature. While she was given formal painting lessons, she preferred to paint in her own style, so the tutoring was stopped. As an adult, Miss Potter wrote and illustrated a story about a rabbit for the son of a friend who was sick. Remembering her own time of convalescence from an illness when she was a child, Beatrix sent along her little story to cheer him. The child’s mother encouraged the artist to publish her book, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit became a gift to all children.

There are many, many books written for children and adults about this remarkable woman. McPhail’s just happens to be the latest biography written for beginning readers. It is a natural companion to Potter’s own tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle Duck, and so many other delightful characters. Fair warning…adults who share Miss Potters tales and biography with their children, just may become immersed in her world. The numerous adult biographies and books about her home and gardens are tantalizing. Two of my adult favorites are At Home with Beatrix Potter: The Creator of Peter Rabbit by Susan Denyer (Frances Lincoln, 2009) and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell (Timber Press, 2013).

Henri Matisse

May6

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented a fascinating exhibit in 2014 called Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. The exhibition catalog for the exhibit is inspiring, and I knew that we had a number of books in the DCD library that discussed this talented artist’s life. Many of them focus on the time in his life when Matisse created almost entirely with paper and scissors.
Henri Matisse was born in 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. He lived in Paris for most of his life, and his avant-garde work was known internationally. At seventy-two, the artist became very ill, and nearly bedridden. Instead of giving up all of his art, he developed his ideas in a new medium – large cutouts from hand-painted paper that his assistants hung around the room for him.
m3The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Brook Press, 2014) is a simple tale of Henri’s childhood, and how his surroundings influenced his later works.
Jeanette Winter also wrote a biography of the master for our youngest readers in Henri’s Scissors (Beach Lane, 2013).  Marjorie Blaine Parker’s biography, Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Henri Matisse (Dial, 2012) is an enticing complement to Winter’s work.
m4Jane O’Connor and Jessie Hartland teamed up to produce Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Grosset & Dunlap, 2002). Their children’s biography is in the form of a school report that a student has written. It contains images of some of Matisse’s work and a discussion of his life.
My three favorite picture book biographies on this master are Matisse: The King of Color by Laurence Anholt (Barron’s, 2007) and Matisse’s Garden by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Amodeo (MoMA, 2014), and Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse by Marjorie Blaine Parker, illustrated by Holly Berry (Dial, 2012).
mAnholt provides details of Matisse’s life that aren’t covered in other children’s books. He chronicles the relationship that Henri had with Monique, a young nurse who helped him through a serious illness. Monique became his confidant, but she eventually left and entered a religious order as a nun. Year’s later, the nun and artist were reunited, and Matisse built the Chapelle du Rosaire as a gift to Monique and the other nuns who cared for him. He designed seventeen stained glass windows that fill the chapel with light, color, and pattern.
m2Matisse’s Garden was published by The Museum of Modern Art to coincide with the recent exhibit. This tale concentrates solely on Henri’s cut-outs, but the book itself is a masterpiece with pages that open out in double spreads to illustrate some of his larger cut-outs.

 

matisseColorful Dreamer is just that, colorful. Holly Berry’s illustrations are a combination of more realistic sketches of Henri and his family combined with colorful collages that evoke his artwork and imagination.

 

MissOh, and I still haven’t mentioned a book for our older readers and art enthusiasts, Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel:Bringing Matisse to America by Susan Fillion (Godine, 2011). Two unmarried sisters from a German-Jewish family in Baltimore amassed one of the most amazing collections of modern art in America. They concentrated on works by Matisse, although they also purchased many paintings by Vuillard, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Picasso. The sisters’ collection was bequeathed to The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Artists

January21

There are many intriguing books about art and artists that open up new possibilities for children and young adults.

noisyThe Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (Knopf, 2014) is a picture book biography that examines the life and passion of Vasya Kandinsky. When Vasya’s aunt gave him a paint box as a gift, the young boy discovered that he could escape “proper” expectations and create. Kadinsky felt that he heard the sounds of the colors, and his paintings were not images of objects. They were a riot of color, and throughout his life teachers and artists didn’t understand his abstract art. Kadinsky’s style was unique, and when the art world recognized his genius, he became an influential leader.

everybodySusan Goldman Rubin introduces our older readers to the Wyeth family in Everybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (Chronicle, 2014). This family of artists contributed extraordinary works of American art. N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Treasure Island are iconic. His son Andrew’s best know work may be “Christina’s World”. Grandson Jamie’s portraits of figures from John F. Kennedy to Andy Warhol continue the artistic family’s legacy.

Adults will be as fascinated by these selections as children are!

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Artist Bill Traylor

May16

billHow fortuitous that formally trained artist, Charles Shannon, met Bill Traylor on a street in 1939. Shannon (1914-1996) was from Montgomery, Alabama, and while he was studying at the Cleveland School of Art, he became interested in the artistic culture of the south. He recognized the talent of Bill Traylor, a former slave who had experienced periods of homelessness. Shannon encouraged Traylor to continue drawing and painting and brought him art supplies.

Bill Traylor (1854-1949) created between 1,200 and 1,500 pieces of art during his lifetime, although he didn’t begin his art until his was well into his eighties. Prior to that time, Traylor had endured slavery and raised a family as a sharecropper. When he moved to Montgomery, Alabama at age eight-one, he struggled to survive. Throughout these hardships, he began to sketch on found pieces of paper and cardboard. He began to draw images from all stages of his life that he had stored in his memory.

Charles Shannon arranged for exhibits of Bill Traylor’s work, and now this former slave and self-taught man is recognized as a very important American folk artist.

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw was written by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low, 2012).

Horace Pippin

March14

If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself…

splashIt is interesting to analyze a picture book that “really works” and is obviously well crafted. One of the reasons for the success of a picture book is because of the connections between the text and the illustrations. Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet collaborated on A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Knopf), a picture book biography about the talented artist. In the author’s and illustrator’s notes in the back of A Splash of Red, Bryant and Sweet both detail how they worked. The author and illustrator traveled together to research Pippin and his work.

Horace Pippin was passionate about art as a child, but life and work got in the way, as he grew older. It wasn’t until he returned from WWI with a badly injured arm, that art re-entered his life. At that time, Pippin found it difficult to obtain a job due to his injury. One day, he picked up a fireplace poker, and he held his injured arm as he scratched a design in some wood. He finished his first painting three years later, by retraining himself and strengthening his arm. Through that painting, he found himself again, as he used somber colors that represented his years as a soldier. Even then, he would add a splash of red.

It took years for Pippin’s work to be recognized, but he has emerged as one of the premiere painters of his time.

 

 

 

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