The Tales of Uncle Remus (1987)

Music Credit:
Salt Peanuts
Dizzy Gillespie
Album: Groovin’ High
Written By: Gillespie / Clarke

A collection of stories about the exploits of Brer Rabbit and other colorful creatures, the tales of Uncle Remus were first published in book form in 1881 by Joel Chandler Harris (1845–1908), an American journalist, fiction writer, and folklorist. Two-thirds of Harris’s tales, which constitute the largest gathering of African American folktales published in the nineteenth century, are derived from African folktales that were brought to the New World, where they were retold and embellished by slaves in the southeastern United States. The remaining stories have their roots in European and Native American folklore.

In 1987, Jerry Pinkney was invited by his publisher to illustrate The Tales of Uncle Remus, retold by American author, educator, and musician Julius Lester. “In my youth, Uncle Remus tales were read and told to us,” he said, but as enthusiastic about the opportunity as he was, he also understood the book’s controversial nature. “Working for the first time on stories that really had bruised people” was concerning for him, but he maintained the goal of capturing the spirit within each piece, leaving the stereotypical behind.

“When I undertook the challenge of retelling [these] tales, I was not sure what the response would be. On the one hand, there were those who remembered the stories from childhood and retained an almost sacred affection for them in their original form. Others associated the tales with slavery and saw no reason why anyone would want to resurrect them,” said author Julius Lester, Jerry Pinkney’s long-time collaborator. Aware that several generations had never heard the tales of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and the others, he embraced the project for them. “I set out to retell these stories…with the same affectionate sense of play and fun as the original, but without evoking associations with slavery,” he said, a vision that is also reflected in Pinkney’s images.

Fascinated by wildlife, Jerry Pinkney established the anthropomorphic qualities of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and many others by emphasizing their humanistic characteristics and portraying them in natural settings. The artist’s reference library on nature and animals came in handy, as did a full length mirror in which he could act out his own interpretations of creature behavior, sometimes in costume.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Lion (1987)
Brer Rabbit and Brer Lion (1987)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Pencil and graphite on paper – Collection of the artist
Untitled (1987)
Untitled (1987)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Pencil and graphite on paper – Collection of the artist
Mr. Jack Sparrow Meets His End (Brer Buzzard and Brer Turtle) (1987)
Mr. Jack Sparrow Meets His End (Brer Buzzard and Brer Turtle) (1987)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Pencil and graphite on paper – Collection of the artist
Brer Rabbit Gets Even (1987)
Brer Rabbit Gets Even (1987)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Pencil and graphite on paper – Collection of the artist
Untitled (1987)
Untitled (1987)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Pencil and graphite on paper – Collection of the artist
Untitled (1987)
Untitled (1987)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Pencil and graphite on paper – Collection of the artist
The Last Tales of Uncle Remus (1994)
The Last Tales of Uncle Remus (1994)
Cover illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Watercolor and pencil on paper – Collection of the artist
Untitled (1994)
Untitled (1994)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Watercolor and pencil on paper – Collection of the artist
Brer Wolf Gets in More Trouble (1987)
Brer Wolf Gets in More Trouble (1987)
Illustration for The Tales of Uncle Remus as retold by Julius Lester
Dial Books, New York
Watercolor and pencil on paper – Collection of the artist
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