In the spirit of Black History Month, here is a stupendous book celebrating an African American artist with the bonus of being illustrated by the artist himself. How did I not know about Benny Andrews? His art is like, Modigliani meets Grandma Moses meets Maira Kalman. Soulful, delightful.
Review in The New York Times here. It is a children’s book, but that is a technicality. Kathleen Benson’s text is plain spoken and straightforward, but not baby-ish. No “See Benny paint,” no. As the Times said, the author lets “the inspirational facts of Andrews’s life speak for themselves.”
Benny’s parents were Georgia sharecroppers. One of ten children, he worked the cotton fields like everybody else, but he always loved to draw. Showing aptitude and ambition, he made his way to high school, the Air Force, and eventually to the Art Institute of Chicago (no less) on the GI Bill. An accomplishment for anyone, but a heck of a thing for someone like Benny.
And by all accounts, he was a heck of a guy. Before his death in 2006 (well, obviously before his death), he illustrated many children’s books. His work is still exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries, most recently in a special installation at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York.
Janice Shay of Pinafore Press, the un-sung instigator and designer of this book, is a book packager and agent in Savannah, hence the Georgia connection to Benny.
Janice sent me the book the other day with a note telling me in part, “…Benny was a dear friend of mine. He and I did three books together, and I asked his widow immediately after his death if I could put togther a children’s book proposal about his life, using his own art. It took four years to sell–a lesson in patience that you understand.” Amen sister.
I love this scene at the Cotton Club. I wish I’d been there. Me and Rose from Downton Abbey.
Yes I do understand about lessons in patience, and you do, too. I like having this reminder, though, especially during Lent, which is about patience, and waiting, and preparing. Not unlike Andrews’s life itself. Or dare I say all of our lives.
Here is Benny at work, and here are links to buy this and other books illustrated by Benny Andrews: From publisher Clarion Books for Houghton Mifflin here. On IndieBookLove here. On Amazon here. On Barnes & Noble here.