Today marks the opening of one of Norman Rockwell Museum’s most successful traveling exhibitions, Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney, on view through September 22, 2013, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s also a special occasion for the fact that the beloved children’s book illustrator originally hails from “The City of Brotherly Love.”
Winner of the 2010 Caldecott Medal for his acclaimed children’s picture book The Lion and the Mouse (2009), Pinkney grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia and studied at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts). He’s been the recipient of five Caldecott Honor Medals, five Coretta Scott King Book Awards, four Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, and a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Illustrators in New York.
This past Wednesday, June 26, Mr. Pinkney was presented with yet another honor— both the city of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have declared the date to be Jerry Pinkney Day. Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett, as well as elected officials representing the city and the state, presented Pinkney with letters of commendation from U.S. Congresswoman Allyson Y. Schwartz and Governor Tom Corbett during a special ceremony held at The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“I’m excited and a bit overwhelmed to be honored like this by my hometown,” Pinkney told Publisher’s Weekly. Mr. Pinkney recalled being encouraged to pursue an artistic career by another Philadelphian, the cartoonist John Liney, whom Pinkney met while in his teens. “When I was growing up, there was little opportunity for a person of color to succeed… Philadelphia was not segregated, but it was not integrated.”
A master watercolorist, Jerry Pinkney has been illustrating children’s books since 1964, and has produced illustrations for over one hundred titles. Highlights include such classic picture books as A Patchwork Quilt (1985), Home Place (1990), John Henry (1994), Minty: A Story of a Young Harriet Tubman (1996), Black Cowboy, Wild Horses (1998), The Little Match Girl (1999), Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales (1999), The Old African (2005), and Sweethearts of Rhythm (2009); all of which are featured in the exhibition. Witness touches on such deeply felt personal and cultural themes as the African-American experience; the wonders of classic literature; and the wisdom in well-loved folk tales. A belief in the ability of images to speak about and to humanity is at the artist’s core, and the works featured in the exhibition celebrate both small yet extraordinary moments, as well as significant historical events, reflecting the transformative power of visual storytelling in our lives.
Norman Rockwell Museum’s Chief Curator Stephanie Plunkett, who curated the exhibition and attended this past week’s opening, told The Philadelphia Daily News that the artist is “a great observer of human nature… but not a harsh observer. He’s giving people the benefit of the doubt, rooting for the underdog. Norman Rockwell saw the best in us. Jerry Pinkney does, too.”
“A Glimpse of Jerry’s World,” Philadelphia Daily News, June 26, 2013
“Move Over, Rocky: Philadelphia Celebrates Hometown Hero Jerry Pinkney,” Publisher’s Weekly, June 25, 2013