American Artists, American Art, a collection of children’s books curated by Simone Schloss from the Curriculum “CURR” and “JUV” shelves on the 2nd floor of the Gottesman Libraries, features picture book biographies and stories for children of 20th century American artists and their iconic creations. Included are profiles of Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and Grandma Moses (painters), Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Faith Ringgold (multimedia artists), Patience Wright and Alexander Calder (sculptors), and Norman Rockwell and Wanda Gag (illustrators). There are stories about iconic works of American art such as the statue of Abraham Lincoln by Vinnie Ream in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial by Gutzon Borglum. The collection recognizes female and minority artists heretofore not accorded commensurate attention, such as the visionary self-taught folk artist, Minnie Evans, and Bill Traylor, who drew in his 80s from the streets of Montgomery, and is now recognized as one of the most important self-taught American folk artists of the twentieth century. There are stories that bring well-deserved recognition to artists who triumphed over adversity, such as George Mendoza, a blind painter, and Winfred Rembert, one of only a few victims of a lynching ever known to have survived. There’s even a story about the three glittering towers built over thirty years by Simon Rodia, an indomitable resident of the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts.
Raised all across the United States, and all of immigrant heritage, most of these artists felt an undeniable urge to express their artistic identities from an early age. Many were encouraged by their families. Whether academy educated or self-taught, most overcame financial hardship. Many were drawn to New York City, either for a time or for life. A few died prematurely. Those who became accomplished artists later in life were surprised by their success.
Reading aloud story books and biographies of artists and art to children offers special delights. We are often introduced to the artist as a young child, and invited to see the world through their eyes. We come to understand the environment in which iconic works of American art were created. We identify with the bravery, originality, and persistence the artists demonstrated in pursuing their vision. Their words capture our imagination. The book’s illustrations, while original, are sometimes inspired by the styles of the artists themselves. Some of the books are enhanced by historical photos and art reproductions. Most include an afterword about the artist and their life, some with a timeline.
Consider sharing with your students a personal story of how art education impacted your life, as you enter the picture books and biographies of these American artists and their art. For me, it was spending Saturday afternoons as a child in Manhattan art galleries with my artist father. Later, when I discovered a passion for collage, linoleum cut, and silkscreen in high school, I made my own creations. It all felt within reach, thanks to that childhood introduction to art.
BOOKS ON EXHIBIT:
Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan; illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. A picture book about the creation of painting "Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)" by the groundbreaking twentieth century Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Born in Cody, Wyoming, Pollock spent his teen years with his family in Arizona, and then California, before settling in New York City in 1930.
Colors of the wind: the story of blind artist and champion runner George Mendoza by J.L. Powers; paintings by George Mendoza; drawings by Hayley Morgan-Sanders. A picture book about American artist and runner, George Mendoza (b. 1955), who moved to New Mexico with his mother after he went legally blind at the age of 15. Mendoza went on to break a world record for blind runners. In his late 30's, Mendoza started painting the kaleidoscope that he saw. Mendoza's story is enhanced by reproductions of the artist's own paintings, along with the line drawings by Hayley Morgan-Sanders.
Cowboy Charlie: the story of Charles M. Russell by Jeanette Winter. A picture book biography of American artist, Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), a native of St. Louis, Missouri. Young Charlie relocated to Montana as a teenager to become a cowboy, and only later became known as the great American painter of the Wild West.
Don't hold me back: my life and art by Winfred Rembert; with Charles and Rosalie Baker. Through his paintings and transcribed interviews, this picture book chronicles African American artist Winfred Rembert's (b. 1945) upbringing on a cotton plantation in segregationist Georgia, his incarceration for his actions during a civil rights demonstration, and his subsequent self-actualization as an artist. Rembert is one of only a few victims of a lynching ever known to have survived.
Faith Ringgold: Portraits of women artists by Robyn Montana Turner. A biography about African American multimedia artist and children's book author, Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), whose family and heritage are vital to her work. A native New Yorker, Ringgold was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance to develop her own art form - the story quilt. Ringgold's story is enhanced by the inclusion of historical photos, as well as reproductions of the artist's paintings and story quilts.
George Bellows: painter with a punch! by Robert Burleigh. A biography of American realist painter, George Bellows (1882-1925), whose work captured the excitement of life in New York City a hundred years ago, often in the poorer neighborhoods. Bellows, who was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, left for New York at the age of twenty-two. Bellows' story is enhanced by the inclusion of historical photos, as well as reproductions of the artist's own paintings.
Going to the Getty: a book about the Getty Center in Los Angeles by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh. A picture book about the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art (established 1974), written at the time of its move in 1997 to the Getty Center in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. The story is enhanced by reproductions of works from the museum's collections, along with illustrations by the author/illustrators, who made six visits to the new Getty Center, as it was under construction.
Grandma Moses written and illustrated by Alexandra Wallner. This picture book biography about the celebrated late-in-life American painter, Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Moses, 1860-1961) is one of several biographies for children by Alexandra Wallner about remarkable women. Known for her honest scenes of long-ago days, Grandma Moses was born and lived much of her life in upstate New York, with a period of homesteading in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia as a young married woman.
It jes' happened: when Bill Traylor started to draw by Don Tate; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. A picture book biography of self-taught artist Bill Traylor (1854-1949), an African American who was born enslaved in Alabama. After spending nearly all of his adult life as a sharecropper, Traylor relocated to the streets of Montgomery and drew. Only later did he become recognized as one of the most important self-taught American folk artists of the twentieth century.
Keith Haring: the boy who just kept drawing by Kay A. Haring; illustrated by Robert Neubecker. A picture book biography of Keith Haring (1958-1990), an American pop and graffiti artist committed to creating art that was accessible to all. Haring grew up in Kutztown, PA. He enrolled in art school in Pittsburgh before relocating to NYC for his formal arts education. Even more important was the thriving alternative arts community he found outside New York's traditional gallery and museum system. The book's illustrations incorporate artwork of Haring's and several others. An afterword describes the Keith Haring Foundation and Haringkids.com, where teachers will find more than 200 lesson plans inspired by Keith's artistic and philanthropic legacy.
Norman Rockwell: storyteller with a brush by Beverly Gherman. A chapter book biography of the American illustrator, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). Rockwell, who was born in NYC and later relocated to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, captured America's imagination through his pictorial view of 20th century social history. Rockwell's story is enhanced by the inclusion of historical photos, as well as reproductions of the artist's own paintings.
Painting dreams: Minnie Evans, visionary artist by Mary E. Lyons. A chapter book biography of the self-taught folk artist, Minnie Evans (1892-1987), an African American whose grandmother was freed from slavery at the age of five. Evans, who was born in a log cabin, and lived much of her life in North Carolina. She was already 43 when she started capturing on paper the images she saw in her mind's eye. Evans' story is enhanced by the inclusion of historical photos, as well as reproductions of the artist's own paintings.
Patience Wright: America's first sculptor, and revolutionary spy by Pegi Deitz Shea; illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. A picture book biography of Colonial era wax sculptor turned revolutionary spy, Patience Lovell Wright (1725-1786). Born on Long Island, and raised in New Jersey, Wright joined her sister in the Philadelphia waxworks after the death of Patience's husband. Later, the sisters opened a New York studio and toured the colonies. Wright expanded the popular waxworks business to London, where her modeling sessions with politicians gave her access to military and government information that she then passed on to Ben Franklin and others, thus making a difference to America's struggle for independence.
Radiant child: the story of young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe. A picture book about the highly influential Afro-Latin American painter, designer, and graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). The trilingual son of a Haitian father and a mother of Puerto Rican heritage, Basquiat was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He later relocated to the Lower East Side, in Manhattan. In the place of reproducing actual Basquiat paintings and designs in his picture book, the author/illustrator blends the artist's style with his own, interpreting Basquiat's works and motifs in paint on textured pieces of wood.
Rushmore by Lynn Curlee. A picture book about the creation from 1924-1941 of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial by sculptor Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941). Born in Idaho territory, Borglum made his home in NYC. Mt. Rushmore depicts four presidents of the United States: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, the fourth subject selected, was controversial. There was a grassroots campaign to include Susan B. Anthony in his place. The book includes a map that clearly places the geography of the sculpture for the reader (near Rapid City, South Dakota). The author/illustrator's elegant prose and dramatic illustrations capture the grandeur of the sculptor's vision.
Sandy's circus: a story about Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone; illustrated by Boris Kulikov. A picture book about the moveable circus created in 1929 by sculptor Alexander (Sandy) Calder (1898-1976) out of found materials, such as wire, cork, and paper. The book's illustrations capture Calder's fanciful works. Born into a family of sculptors and artists, young Calder moved between Pennsylvania, Arizona, New York, and California. Calder went back and forth between Paris and New York with his circus. His joyous kinetic sculptures turned ordinary objects into extraordinary art, and - in the process - revolutionized mobiles as an art form.
The wonderful towers of Watts by Patricia Zelver; pictures by Frané Lessac. A picture book about Watts Towers, three towering monuments built single handedly by Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia (1879-1965), over the course of thirty years, with glittering bits of tile, glass, mirrors, pottery, and seashells. People from all over the world still come to see the towers, which rise over what was once Rodia's backyard, in the middle of Watts, a poor neighborhood outside the city limits of Los Angeles, CA.
Through Georgia's eyes by Rachel Rodríguez; illustrated by Julie Paschkis. A picture book that captures the unique perspective of American painter Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) through her words and story, and through cut-paper acrylic collages that refer to O’Keeffe’s paintings, without attempting to re-create them. Born in Wisconsin, O'Keeffe spent a number of years painting in NYC before settling in New Mexico. Recognized as the "Mother of American modernism," O'Keeffe was best known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes.
Vinnie and Abraham by Dawn FitzGerald; illustrated by Catherine Stock. A picture book about sculptor Lavinia "Vinnie" Ream Hoxie's (1847-1914) most famous creation: the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Born in Wisconsin, Vinnie Ream relocated with her family to Washington, D.C. when the Civil War began. At the age of 14, Ream was one of the first women to be employed by the US Postal Service, while at the same time apprenticing herself to famous sculptor Clark Mills. She was the first woman and the youngest artist to ever receive a commission from the US Government for a statue.
Wanda Gág: the girl who lived to draw by Deborah Kogan Ray. A picture book biography of German American artist Wanda Gág (1893-1946), creator of what many now consider to be the first modern picture book, Millions of Cats. Born in Minnesota, Gág enjoyed an idyllic, albeit poor, childhood disrupted only by the death of her beloved father. After several adolescent years as her family's sole breadwinner, she was able to attend art school. Afterwards, Gág relocated to the greater New York metropolitan area where her work and talent were eventually recognized and rewarded.
Millions of cats by Wanda Gág. Millions of Cats (1928), by Wanda Gág (1893-1946), is considered by many to be the first modern picture book.