A perfect bond: Illustrator Bryan Collier, who is among the artists in a new exhibit at the Princeton Public Library, was among those who took part in a previous Princeton Children’s Book Festival at Hinds Plaza. The new exhibition and the upcoming festival on October 8 have close ties.
By Anne Levin
Princeton Public Library staff members were looking for ways to expand the reach of the library’s exhibits when they found a logical match. “Telling a People’s Story,” a traveling exhibit of art found in the pages of African-American children’s picture books, opens Saturday, October 1, just in time for the return of the popular Princeton Children’s Book. Festival on October 8. .
“I had heard about this exhibit and had seen pictures,” said Janie Hermann, public programming librarian. “I did some research. When we realized that some of the illustrators had also been in our book festival, that was a really nice connection. Also, we just wanted to elevate the work of African American illustrators.
On the first floor of the library until October 30, the exhibition focuses on art produced in the form of book illustrations. The traveling exhibit on loan from the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio, is the first of its kind. The show highlights the cultural, historical, and social makeup of African-American cultural identity while raising awareness of the role that African-American illustrators and authors play in the field of children’s literature.
“Children’s picture books can really be a portal for children to learn about important events,” Hermann said. “The show’s books tell about different historical periods. It lets the community know more about it. And even though it’s children’s illustrators, there’s something everyone can learn from it.
Hermann and Susan Conlon, who run the library’s youth services department, worked together to bring the show to Princeton. “We are thrilled to have this exhibit available for visitors to this year’s Princeton Children’s Book Festival,” Conlon said in a press release. “The festival returns to Hinds Plaza on October 8 this year, and we hope everyone will take the time to go to the library to experience ‘Telling a People’s Story’.”
More than 600 books and 14,000 illustrations were reviewed during the development of the exhibition. Themes and time periods include African Origins, the Middle Passage, Slavery, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Harlem Renaissance, Segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. Other themes draw attention to historical figures in politics, music, sports, arts and entertainment.
The 130 works by 33 artists – from 95 books – include paintings, pastels, drawings and mixed media, spanning nearly 50 years of creativity. Artists featured include Floyd Cooper, Jerry Pinkney, Bryan Collier and Shadra Strickland, all of whom appeared at the library as part of the Princeton Children’s Book Festival.
“Collectively, the many books created by authors and illustrators since the late 19th century contribute to an understanding of the African-American experience through two perspectives,” reads a description of the original exhibit. “First, there is an internal look at the need for validation and the creation of positive self-images. Second, it is to provide an introduction to the African American experience for those unfamiliar to better understand the cultural, historical, and social makeup of African American identity.
Showing the exhibit now instead of waiting until February, which is Black History Month, made sense to those involved. “We certainly recognize special heritage months, but we love to elevate diversity throughout the year,” Hermann said. “It’s definitely part of our mission.”