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 Jerry Pinkney  (1939 - )

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Lived/Active: New York/Pennsylvania      Known for: children's story illustrator, commercial art

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Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is text by Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator, Norman Rockwell Museum for Jerry Pinkney's 2011 induction ceremony into The Society of Illustrator's Hall of Fame

Jerry Pinkney’s icons of living culture have, since 1960, been an important part of the American visual landscape. Created for the covers and pages of periodicals and picture books, postage stamps, greeting cards, advertisements, and well-traveled historic sites, his art is intimately encountered by a vast and eager audience seeking meaning in the stories he has chosen to tell. Intricately conceived, his narratives imbue ordinary activities with a sense of historical importance, and his exquisite characters and meticulously researched details inspire belief by millions in the vision that he continues to refine.
 
Born on December 22, 1939, and raised in Philadelphia, Pinkney never imagined that a career in art might be possible. In his modest but loving home, his creativity was encouraged by his mother Willie Mae, a homemaker, and his father James, a craftsman with a flair for style. “I was drawing to learn,” Pinkney later reflected, “but no one was able to point me to a way of making a living in art.”
 
At home, storytelling was treasured oral tradition. Pinkney’s parents, who migrated from the South, retold classic folk tales in rhythmic cadences that captured his imagination, providing a sense of cultural belonging. The legend of John Henry, the adventures of Uncle Remus, and The Ugly Duckling, all illustrated by the artist later in life, were among his favorites.
 
While working at a local newspaper stand, sketching whenever he could, Pinkney met cartoonist John J. Liney, known for his work on the comic strip Henry. Liney offered Pinkney a glimpse into the professional world of art. At Dobbins Vocational High School, Pinkney immersed himself in the commercial art program, taking courses in calligraphy, drafting, and graphic design, and drawing regularly from the live model. Determined to succeed, he entered the Philadelphia School of Art as a design student and scholarship recipient, the first in his family to achieve higher education.

Taking his first professional step in 1960, at The Rust Craft Greeting Card Company in Dedham, Massachusetts, Pinkney entered the field a designer with an emerging interest in the art of illustration. Boston’s publishing industry proved supportive of his work, and in 1964, while at Barker-Black Studio, he produced The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst—the first of more than 100 picture books to come. As co-founder of Kaleidoscope, an independent art studio, Pinkney deepened his commitment to illustration, and in 1965, made the bold decision to launch a career as a freelance artist.
 
As he and wife Gloria Jean Pinkney raised their young family, opportunities to create culturally-themed picture books emerged. During the 1960s, the unwritten mid-century conventions that avoided depictions of ethnicity in published art began to fall away, inspired by the demand for more inclusive representations. Pinkney’s art reflected his own compassionate nature, and his desire to be “a strong role model for my family and other African Americans” was becoming a reality.

By the time he moved to the New York area in 1970, he had already received professional accolades and public recognition. Book publishers engaged him to illustrate stories inspired by the realities of the African American experience, and corporations offered high-profile commissions, carrying historical conscience more deeply into popular culture. A lover of music—from jazz and blues to classical—Pinkney enjoyed the chance to illustrate album covers for RCA Records, and calendars honoring jazz greats of the Harlem Renaissance for Smirnoff. Distributed widely by Seagram Distillers in the mid 1970s, African American Journey to Freedom looks back on history, from the Great Migration to the Voting Rights Act of 1965—a series of 35 paintings that are now among the collections of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
 
In the 1970s, Pinkney’s art for contemporary fiction referenced the real-life experiences of people of color. Book jackets for the Newbery Medal winner, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, and many others, became the face of living, breathing characters that readers could believe in. His commissions included powerful, carefully researched art for National Geographic and Reader’s Digest, important visual documents. “These addressed the experience of being African American, and the importance of African American contributions to society,” he said. “I wanted to be a strong role model, and to show my children the possibilities that lay ahead for them. That was very important.”
 
Family loomed large in Pinkney’s important mid-career works that opened a window onto the everyday lives of African Americans. Pivotal were his 1985 illustrations for The Patchwork Quilt, Valerie Flournoy’s reflection on the intergenerational bonds within an African American family. The book’s appearance on PBS television’s Reading Rainbow brought its message to a broad audience, and signified success. Pinkney’s warm, humanizing portrayals of people from the past in books like Back Home and The Sunday Outing, written by Gloria Jean Pinkney, were replete with images recalled from childhood, establishing a positive, empathetic view.

In 1987, an enduring collaboration was launched when Pinkney was invited to illustrate The Tales of Uncle Remus, retold by author Julius Lester. Working to capture the spirit of these stories, Pinkney and Lester left stereotypes behind and explored new cultural narratives. John Henry offered the opportunity, in 1994, to “create an African American hero that would inspire all.” Familiar, too, was the story of Ybo Landing, the subject of Lester's masterpiece, The Old African, a stirring legend infused with magical realism, brought to life by the artist in 2005.  
 
Published in 1998, Black Cowboys, Wild Horses: A True Story shed light on the contributions of people of color on the frontier. The artist's dynamic, textural paintings provide sensory depictions of Bob Lemmons’ struggle and triumph over the unforgiving plains. “As a boy growing up in the 1940s, Westerns were huge,” remembered the artist. “I found out later that many cowboys were black and Mexican, as were stagecoach drivers, saloon proprietors, laborers, and explorers.”

In other books like Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder, Pinkney pieced together historical facts to construct visual realities—a skill that he has brought to several site-specific commissions. In 2008, he gave voice to documented northern slaves in a series of powerful works for the African American Burial Ground Interpretive Center in New York. “My role was to individualize the people who were buried there,” he said, “to give a face to history.” Installations for the National Parks Service at Arlington House, the Booker T. Washington National Historic Site, and the George Washington Carver National Monument, are stunning recreations based in fact.
 
The recipient of the 2010 Caldecott Medal, as well as five Caldecott Honor Medals, five Coretta Scott King Awards, and four Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, Pinkney has received many commendations for his outstanding body of work, including the Original Art’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators in 2006. Always wishing to give back, he served on the United States Postal Service Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee for 10 years, from 1982 to 1992, and in 2003 was appointed to the National Council on the Arts/NEA, where he became an influential advocate for arts funding.

“I am a storyteller at heart,” Jerry Pinkney reminds us after a half century of image making. “There is something special about knowing that your stories can alter the way people see the world, and their place within it.” Always rooting for the underdog, he continues to make images that bear witness to an underlying belief that all things are possible. Reaching beyond their aesthetic and conceptual underpinnings, his vibrant illustrations reveal larger truths about who we are and who we might become.

Source:
"Jerry Pinkney 2011 Hall of Fame Inductee", The Society of Illustrators, //www.societyillustrators.org/Awards-and-Competitions/Hall-of-Fame/Past-Inductees/2011--Jerry-Pinkney.aspx (Accessed 12/13/2013)
 


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from The New York Times, August 21, 2001:

"Illustrating Familiar Tales for a New Generation" by DOREEN CARVAJAL


ROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. Jerry Pinkney inhabits a strange and inviting universe where lilacs smile, spruce trees brood and billowing clouds of wild horses gallop in masses of lavender pink.

In his world life is revealed by the routine: a wrinkle of skin or the cotton crease of a turquoise summer dress. Crocodiles sport cravats. Giraffes squint through eyeglasses. And a motley assortment of children's book characters smile suspiciously like Mr. Pinkney, their creator and illustrator.

Mr. Pinkney has collected four prestigious Caldecott honor medals for his illustrations, although the outright Caldecott Prize eluded him again last year for his retelling of the 150-year-old classic The Ugly Duckling. Those near misses have earned him the joking title of the Susan Lucci of illustrators.

But that does not deter loyal readers. In the field of children's picture-books, where sales of 10,000 copies are respectable, some of Mr.  Pinkney's illustrated books, like John Henry, are on a national circuit of museums, including two ongoing exhibitions, one with his son Brian that was the inaugural program for the new quarters of the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Tex.

Glimpses of Mr. Pinkney are scattered through his storybooks; there he is beaming slyly from the pages of, Mirandy and Brother Wind, a breezy apparition in pale blue. Turn to another book, and he is a pensive lion in a red-checked waistcoat in an Uncle Remus fable. In another tale he has multiplied into an entire Lakota Indian tribe.

"I have to see the action in my head first," said Mr. Pinkney, a gentle man with a beard shot with gray who happily dons baggy pants and vintage vests to evoke the proper mood for drawing a buzzard in a top hat. "And then if I can see it in my head, it's very easy for me to find it in myself." Mr. Pinkney doesn't think his own life is the stuff of storybooks, but the outlines are
there.

At age 61, this son of a Philadelphia handyman is the patriarch of a family dynasty of seven artists and writers. Next month alone the prolific Pinkney clan will publish three books, including his own Goin' Someplace Special, the story of a young black girl's confrontation with Jim Crow segregation.

"He's a very capable artist, one of the few African-American artists of his generation to achieve mainstream status," said Leonard S. Marcus, a children's book historian and critic who has just written a book on elite teams of illustrators and writers, Side by Side. "He's been one of the
pioneers, and there aren't many."

Illustrators have long been overlooked by the conventional art world. But in recent years, Mr. Marcus said, artists like Mr. Pinkney have gained more respect with new museums, like the one in Abilene devoted to the genre. Another, the $15 million Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, is scheduled for construction on a seven-acre apple orchard in Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Lately Mr. Pinkney has become so well known that fan mail arrives here at his house in childish scrawl simply addressed to Mr. Pinkney, Croton-on-Hudson. He lives and works in a 19th-century carriage house with a lavender door, set back among spruce trees. His ground-level studio opens on a sun porch with a view of grassy slopes and bursts of black-eyed susans. It is here for the last three decades that Mr. Pinkney has been painting and roaming an alternate world populated by black cowboys and Moroccan royalty, Jewish prophets and jazz singers.

His pattern is to sketch pencil illustrations and then transfer the design to watercolor paper, adding a mix of pale tones and jewel-like colors of yellow and red that radiate optimism even in a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's classic The Little Match Girl, which ends in the girl's freezing death.

"My work is convincing rather than realistic, and so the anatomy has to be just right," Mr. Pinkney said. "My work also speaks to how people feel, and so I need to be able to see the characters."

He devotes as much time to research as he does to fluid lines and colors. To imagine slave life for Minty, a book about the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, he examined and photographed a trunk full of plantation clothes from the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis, Md. Then he stood in a nearby slave cemetery and tried, he said, to summon images and emotions.

To tell the tale of The Little Match Girl, he pored through photographs of boys forced to work in the coal fields of western Pennsylvania. For a book about sharecroppers, he studied Depression-era photographs and interviewed a migrant worker, studying his hands and stooped posture bent from years of fruit and vegetable picking.

"I actually become the people I'm drawing, and I do that with animals, too," said Mr. Pinkney.

In a quest for authentic expressions, his wife and the sometime author of his books, Gloria Jean, enlists relatives, friends and assorted members of the Star of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist church in Ossining, N.Y., to pose for photographs of characters.

For Sam and the Tigers, a retelling of Little Black Sambo, Mr. Pinkney's grandson, Leon, then 8, was asked to model in rumpled costumes.

Occasionally some models balk; his young granddaughter was asked to play the role of a robin but insisted on being a rabbit. One of his sons, Brian, is still a little embarrassed by the childhood memory of the time his father asked him to dress like a girl for a photo. Even some of the paid models find it difficult to express themselves, Mr. Pinkney said, which is why he often turns the camera on himself.

"Sometimes we dressed up like in slavery times," said Myles C. Pinkney, 37, a photographer and the youngest of Mr. Pinkney's four children, who recalls that at the time his father's books were the only titles that offered him images of black children. "We would have to pretend like we were in a boat. It was cool because when we were done, we could see the finished result in
his pictures."

Since he was a little boy, art has defined Mr. Pinkney like the lines of his sketches. One of six children, he recalled constantly searching for a refuge where he could draw in the cramped, brick row house his family lived in in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood. One of his favorite places was a spot under a grand piano that his father had painted pink.




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