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Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney

January 22, 2012 - April 15, 2012


The Flint Institute of Arts is presenting a retrospective exhibition of illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, one of the most highly acclaimed children's book artists in America. Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney, was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and will be at the FIA through April 15, 2012. (right: Jerry Pinkney, American, b. 1939, John Henry, watercolor, pencil on paper, 1994, 14.5 x 22 inches. © 1994 Jerry Pinkney Studio, All rights reserved)

Pinkney has illustrated over 100 books and is the recipient of numerous awards including a Caldecott Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators, New York. In addition to his work as an illustrator of children's picture books, the artist was commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service to create a series of 12 Black Heritage portraits for postage stamps in 1978. His illustrations have also appeared in National Geographic magazine and the Reader's Digest. His books have been translated into 11 different languages and published in 14 countries.

The exhibition chronicles a 50-year journey by the artist. Born in Philadelphia, the son of parents who migrated from the South, Pinkney grew up with a strong oral tradition and was inspired by the telling of such classic folk tales as the Adventures of Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus and The Ugly Duckling. Pinkney studied design at The Philadelphia School of Art and developed an interest in the art of illustration. After first encountering the work of Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin and Romare Bearden and later the imagery of N.C.Wyeth and Howard Pyle, he began illuminating picture books. His drawings and watercolors reflect a broad range of imagery that include both the African American experience and a love of historical fiction.

After moving to New York in 1970, he began to illustrate album covers for RCA Records and calendars for The Smirnoff Company. His work with Seagram Distillers during this same period resulted in the creation of a widely distributed series of calendars and posters that portray the influential people and significant events in African American history, from the arrival of slaves to this country through the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The 35 original watercolors from Pinkney's Journey to Freedom series were formerly included in Seagram's corporate art collection and are now preserved at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black History in New York City. (left: Jerry Pinkney, American, b. 1939, GRRR (Lion Picks Up Mouse), Illustration from The Lion and the Mouse, watercolor, pencil on paper, 2009, 9.5 x 22 inches. © 2009 Jerry Pinkney Studio, All rights reserved)

During the 1970's Mr. Pinkney began work on two new artistic endeavors. He was asked by the United States Postal Service to create a series of Black Heritage portraits that represent renowned African Americans in the world of music, civil rights, sports and politics. He continued to serve for ten years as an artistic advisor on the Post Master General's Citizens Stamp Committee. It was during this same period that he began work on a series of classic books published by the Franklin Library that included Gulliver's Travels by Jonathen Swift and These Thirteen by William Faulkner.

An artistic collaboration with the American author Julius Lester began in the 1980's and resulted in several publications that include: The Tales of Uncle Remus, The Old African and Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story. "I am a storyteller at heart, notes Jerry Pinkney. "There is something special about knowing that your stories can alter the way people see the world, and their place within it."

Describing Jerry Pinkney's work Stephanie H. Plunkett, Chief Curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum said, " Always rooting for the underdog, he continues to make images that are witness to his underlying belief that all things are possible. Whether recreating history or breathing life into classic tales, his art is always about much more than just the appearance of thingshis illustrations reveal larger truths that offer invaluable insights into who we are and who we might become."

(above: Jerry Pinkney, American, b. 1939, Little Red Robin Hood Met a Sly Wolf, watercolor, pencil on paper, 2007, 11.25 x 19 inches. © 2007 Jerry Pinkney Studio, All rights reserved)


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