Picturing the African American Experience: Children’s Book Illustrations by Kadir Nelson

Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation Gallery

From the classic picture books of Dr. Seuss to the breakthrough illustrations of Christopher Meyers, the Akron Art Museum has highlighted important children’s book illustrators. This fall the museum presents Caldecott Honor Award winner Kadir Nelson. Along with debuting illustrations from Nelson’s latest release, We Are the Ship, this exhibition highlights key earlier books. “I have painted people of all types and enjoy it. But I love to paint African-American people because for one, I know African-American people better than I know people of other ethnicities. I am familiar with it and have a deep love for it. It is the culture that surrounded me both as a child and an adult and I feel a responsibility to represent it in away that honors and uplifts it. This is something that I feel I can and must do as an artist. Who else is going to do it?” In the Coretta Scott King Award Winning book, ellington was not a street, Nelson brings Ntozake Shange’s poem, “Mood Indigo,” to life. In the poem, Shange recalls her childhood home and the close-knit group of innovators such as Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington who often gathered there. These remarkable men tower over the tiny cherub faced children depicted by Nelson. Nelson notes that his own childhood experience and those of his two young daughters closely influence his work. Recently, Nelson has entered new territory by both writing and illustrating. His first foray into writing, We are the Ship, will be released in January, but Akron will get a sneak peek as four large oil paintings from the book will be on display. The book follows the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s until Jackie Robinson joined the majors in 1947. One of Nelson’s most recent titles, Moses, received the Caldecott Honor Award. In Moses, Nelson plays on author Carole Boston Weatherford’s lyrical descriptions of Harriet Tubman’s spiritual journey as she hears the voice of God guiding her north to freedom on her initial escape from enslavement. Inspired by history books, poems, spirituals and his own life experiences, Nelson’s illustrations in this exhibition add a new dimension to the landscape of children’s literature. This exhibition is made possible by a generous gift from Ohio Arts Council.