March 17 - Today's post provided by Diane Browning
|Catharina van Hemessen,|
Renaissance painter from the Southern Netherlands
Unlike when I was growing up, there are now many enlightening biographies and fiction books relating to women’s talent and contributions to the world. There are books that encourage girls to pursue their dreams, showing girls are capable of the same achievements as their male counterparts. I believe there is always a need for books to encourage self-esteem in children -- books about dreams and success, and about girls who succeeded despite being told “no” too many times concerning their education, their careers, their very lives.
Below are some of my favorite picture books about women artists. The artists and the paintings they created were very different from one another. What did they have in common? They all lived to paint and they wouldn’t have taken “no” for an answer.
• Summer Birds -- by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis – about German scientist and illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian
• Art from Her Heart -- by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane Evans -- about American folk artist Clementine Hunter
I was happy to discover Summer Birds by Margarita Engle in my local bookstore. (Our books had been reviewed together by a North Carolina newspaper – favorably! – as new books about girl artists.) Maria Sibylla Merian was a 13 year old German girl, who had shown artistic talent from an early age. It was the mid-17th century and Maria loved to study butterflies and other insects – in secret to avoid being accused of witchcraft! From her observations she would be able to prove that butterflies did not spring from mud as “beasts of the devil” which was the common belief at the time. When she was older, continuing her studies of insects, plants and natural phenomena, she would travel across the world making her beautiful meticulous paintings of plants and of insect life cycles. Today her work can be found in the collections of art museums around the world. I was fortunate to see a large exhibit of her amazing work at the Getty museum last year. Julie Paschkis’ bright and joyful illustrations beautifully express Maria’s excitement in her world of discovery. The book’s title is taken from an expression referring to butterflies and moths which appear in the summer.
I love folk art. While I was researching for my book I came across Art from Her Heart (by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane W. Evans) about folk artist Clementine Hunter. Without training and after a life dealing with prejudice and poverty, Clementine Hunter first began to paint in 1938, at age 50. She painted on whatever surface she could find—boards, bottles, window shades. She painted her memories of a long life working as a manual laborer on a Louisiana plantation. She would go on to sell her paintings and eventually this descendant of slaves would see her work exhibited in the New Orleans Museum of Art (although because of segregation she herself would not be able to enter the museum during business hours). She would paint for almost 40 years, and was an example of how “art can keep the spirit alive.” She was a remarkable woman whose work is appreciated to this day. Shane W. Evans’ colorful illustrations, paired with Clementine’s delightful folk paintings, work well to tell Clementine’s inspiring story.
Jonah Winter’s book, Frida, is simply told, poetic and inspiring, with beautiful and whimsical illustrations by the very talented Ana Juan. The colorful, magical, folk-art-influenced paintings of Frida Kahlo have long been favorites of mine. Her art was like no one else’s, and it was strongly influenced by the difficulties in her life (encompassing the first 50 years of the 20th century). An early bout with polio and a terrible bus accident resulted in a life of pain. But nothing could keep her from painting. She channeled her pain into her work. She painted fantastical dreamlike paintings, imaginary friends and many surreal self-portraits. She was bold, brave, fierce and irreverent and was loved and known all over the world. This book is a wonderful tribute to her.
Diane Browning is the author/illustrator of Signed, Abiah Rose (Tricycle/Random House 2010). Her first picture book, it received a starred review from Booklist and was named to their Top 10 Historical Titles for Youth and Top 10 Art Titles for Youth - 2010. It was also chosen for the ALA Amelia Bloomer Recommended Titles List – 2011. Visit her blog at http://www.dianebrowningillustrations.com/.