|Jerry Pinkney, Cotton Club. Illustration from Sweethearts of Rhythm, 2008. ©2008 Jerry Pinkney Studio. All rights reserved.|
Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney
June 28 – September 22, 2013
Special Exhibitions Gallery, Perelman Building
2525 Pennsylvania Avenue
Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney displays almost five decades of work by the celebrated Philadelphia-born illustrator. He is well known for spellbinding visual narratives that bring to life classic children’s literature, folktales, and trailblazing explorations of the American story. The exhibition comprises more than one hundred images, including designs for record album covers, commissions for African American historic sites, and luminous illustrations from his award-winning children’s books—including The Lion and the Mouse, winner of the 2010 Caldecott Medal—all of which trace Pinkney’s artistic journey as one of the United States’ finest visual storytellers. This exhibition is part of Art Splash, a suite of five family-friendly exhibitions, interactive art and play zones, and daily family programs in the Perelman Building from June 28 to September 2, 2013.
The show explores Pinkney’s achievements as a designer, with images for advertising, book jackets, and record album covers. In 1984 he created a series of calendar illustrations for the Smirnoff Company honoring jazz greats of the Harlem Renaissance. These watercolors combine figures, text, and graphic elements to create playful images that reflect the improvisational nature of jazz as well as the individual quirks of each musician. Jazz Greats (Coleman Hawkins)shows the tenor saxophonist and his band at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.
Illustrations of classic folktales and fairy tales anchor the exhibition and have long been Pinkney’s signature work. He has illustrated more than one hundred books, bringing national attention to African American culture as well as reinterpreting European fables and stories like The Little Match Girl and Little Red Riding Hood. With the writer Julius Lester in the 1980s, Pinkney took a fresh look at The Tales of Uncle Remus, illustrating the puckishness of Brer Rabbit and his associates without evoking connotations of slavery.
Pinkney not only reinterpreted European tales with black protagonists but also developed work that depicted the everyday life of African Americans. Many of the works in this section reflect his personal experiences of faith and family. Illustrations for Mirandy and Brother Wind and The Patchwork Quilt (a Reading Rainbow book) celebrate African American traditions, while The Sunday Outing, a story by the artist’s wife, Gloria Jean Pinkney, shows Christian imagery that is also seen in Pinkney’s Bible illustrations. In Opening of the Red Sea, frothy walls of water peel away from a column of migrants moving along the sandy ocean floor, showing the frailty of human life preserved by divine grace.
A detailed observer of the American visual landscape, Pinkney humanizes historical events with care and empathy. His work for National Geographic magazine, the National Park Service, and the US Postal Service portrayed the contributions that African Americans have made to the history of this country. In Mary, done for the African Burial Ground Interpretive Center in New York, a woman holds a hoe in her hand and a baby on her back, showing the drudgery and pain of slavery, while Plural Response, a series for the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, shows a variety of folk, from a sharecropper to a store proprietor, on the march for civil rights.
This exhibition showcases the power of visual storytelling, whether that story is a familiar legend, a forgotten folktale, or a neglected corner of history. Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney explores this gifted artist’s legacy through compelling images that offer insight into where we have been, who we are, and who we might become.
The catalogue accompanying the retrospective traces Pinkney’s long career and features essays by the artist, Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, Dr. Gerald L. Early, Steven Heller, Leonard S. Marcus, and Dr. Joyce K. Schiller
June 26, 2013 has been declared Jerry Pinkney Day throughout Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The offices of the First Lady Susan Corbett, State Senator Larry Farnese, State Representative Michelle Brownlee, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and City Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer on behalf of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to present the artist with letters of commendation from US Congresswoman Allyson Y. Schwartz and the office of Governor Corbett.
Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.