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Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney on view at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers
The Lion and the Mouse. Cover illustration. Jerry Pinkney, 2009. © Jerry Pinkney Studio. All rights reserved.

YONKERS, NY.- In one hundred books Jerry Pinkney has turned an artist’s eye and hand to the story ─ a classic, a folktale, a fable ─ and readers all over the world saw something new, something they wanted to read and to remember.

“I am a storyteller at heart,” Pinkney said. He is also the master of the American picture book and more than 120 watercolor illustrations by this artist, who lives in Westchester, are on view in the exhibition Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney at the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, from September 26 to January 13. The first major overview of Jerry Pinkney’s 50-year career as a designer and illustrator, the exhibition follows his 2010 award of the Randolph Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse, from the American Library Association.

The Hudson River Museum is the only New York showing for this exhibition on national tour organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. “Jerry Pinkney brings stories to life with and without words but always with the beauty of color and imagery,” said Hudson River Museum Director Michael Botwinick. “We are delighted to offer such a full collection of his work to the whole community and by extension to bring the magic of reading and drawing to the many children we see at the Museum.”

“I’ve found it interesting to trace how the chapters of my life have knitted themselves into my art,” Pinkney said. The Art of Jerry Pinkney touches on the cultural themes of the African-American experience, just as it looks at how this artist finds the unexpected in the stories we think we know so well. He uncovers, again and again, the febrile energy in a small moment that surprisingly can change a life or turn an event in history. Most recently in his almost wordless adaptation of the Aesop Fable The Lion and The Mouse, we marvel that two creatures on a faraway African plain choose not the hard chase and bloody battle but, instead, exchange kindnesses. Fascinated with wildlife, Pinkney, in many books including “The Brer Rabbit” in The Last Tales of Uncle Remus shows us the human qualities of animals as he shows us animals in natural and literary settings.

Jerry Pinkney, Philadelphia born and bred, and now a long-time New Yorker, has illustrated children’s books since 1964. But it was not an easy path to illustration success. Blacks were not expected to be able to forge careers in the art field. Trained as a commercial artist at a vocational school, he persisted and won a scholarship to the Philadelphia College of Art where his work took on the shading and detail for which he is now renowned and he where he began to use color to convey mood and emotion.

He most often works on children’s books that celebrate multiculturalism and African-American heritage, as he took on the task of reshaping the perceptions of the stereotypes of blacks in the formerly “All White World of Children’s Books.” He designed the first nine stamps of the U. S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage series. Pinkney’s success as an illustrator is due both to his talent as an artist and to the way he depicts the rich heritage of African-Americans but he claims, “Only probably 50 percent of my work depicts my culture. The other works really celebrate other cultures, such as Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling or the Little Match Girl or Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

Art critics will look at f Pinkney’s use of color and admire the scarlet curve of Little Red Riding Hood’s cloak or the golden grass on in Pinkney’s Serengeti plane. Sociologists will look at Pinkney the boy, who without a visit to a museum or an art class drew at home on the back of wallpaper samples. What we will see, though, in The Art of Jerry Pinkney is his wish: “It has always been my intent for my work to continue to breathe after publication. My hope is that (museum visitors) will believe that Jerry Pinkney cares deeply for people, making art, and visual storytelling.”

The exhibition includes a 96-page illustrated catalog that provides new scholarship into Pinkney’s work in essays by the exhibition’s co-curator Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, Dr. Gerald L. Early, and others. Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney has been organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Jerry Pinkney
Jerry Pinkney is an award-winning artist who began his creative journey in the field of illustration in 1960. A native of Philadelphia, he studied at the Philadelphia College of Art, began his career as a graphic designer, and has been illustrating children’s books since 1964. His art has appeared in more than one hundred books, garnering well-deserved acclaim. The recipient of a Caldecott Medal, five Caldecott Honor Medals, five Coretta Scott King Awards and four Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, Pinkney has received many commendations for his outstanding body of work, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators in New York. His illustrated books have been translated into eleven languages and published in fourteen different countries. In addition to his work in children’s books, Pinkney has created illustrations for a wide variety of clients, including the U.S. Postal Service, National Park Service, and National Geographic. He served on the U.S. Postal Services Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee for ten years, from 1982 to 1992, and in 2003, was appointed to the National Endowment for the Arts/NEA, a prestigious position held by the artist for six years. A gifted educator, he has mentored aspiring illustrators at Pratt Institute, the University of Delaware, and the New York State University at Buffalo. The recipient of Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, he has created artworks that are among the collections of The Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Brandywine River Art Museum.

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