Jerry Pinkney’s icons of living culture have, since 1960, been an important part of the American visual landscape. Jerry Pinkney is a master watercolorist and across his, 50-year journey as an illustrator has created images that reflect his passion for life, love for family, and his interest in history. He has illustrated work for covers and pages of periodicals, postage stamps, greeting cards, product advertisements, and his work has appeared in more than one hundred illustrated books. In the artist’s words “A sense of community has always been important to me, and I want that to be reflected in my art. When I speak of community, I am not only talking about the immediate world around me but also my legacy. I am always searching for projects that connect with my culture and the experience of being Black in America.” His elegant work reminds us of life’s most meaningful blessing which is having a community whether it is immediate or the one you to make throughout your life and how important it is to be a part of one to lead a fulfilling life. 

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania it was hard for Jerry Pinkney to dream of a career in art but being a part of a loving and supportive family helped him see the other way. Pinkney’s mother being a homemaker and his father being a craftsman made him attracted to the art of learning. “I was drawing to learn,” said Pinkney when his parents carried the tradition of oral storytelling when they migrated from the South. Listening to classic folk tales poked at his creativity helping him feel like he belonged in a community. Pinkney got his first glimpse into the professional art world when he met a cartoonist John J. Liney while working at a local newspaper stand, sketching occasionally. Pinkney took his first professional step in 1960, at The Rust Craft Greeting Card Company. He then proceeded to gain recognition until he produced and illustrated his first of more than one hundred books to come, The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst. 

The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst and Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, 1964. 

Determined to succeed Jerry Pinkey was the first in his family to get higher education from the Philadelphia School of Art. He enrolled as a design student to further perfect his skills. After publishing his first illustrated book he decided to fully commit to art and started his career as a freelance artist. During the 1960s demand for more inclusive art and literature started to emerge and Pinkney’s work started to get more recognition. His dream of being a “strong role model for my family and other African Americans” started to turn into a reality. Pinkney’s work is inspired by the oral tradition his parents kept alive from when they migrated from the south and wanting to build a community between the African Americans by creating and illustrating experiences others can relate to as well. 

Ain’t nobody a stranger to me by Ann Grifalconi and Illustrate by Jerry Pinkney, 2007.

Ain’t nobody a stranger to me is a picture book about an old man telling his granddaughter of he and his young family’s journey to freedom with assistance from the underground railroad. Pinkney took on work to honor his history and educate others about it. 

By the time Pinkney moved to New York he was already known by multiple publishing companies and people who offered him commissioned work. He was also offered to illustrate album covers for RCA Records for classical jazz music and calenders honoring jazz greats of Harlem Renaissance. African American Journey to Freedom looks back on history, from the Great Migration to the Voting Rights Act of 1965—a series of thirty-five paintings that are now in the collection of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Pinkney made a lot of very moving work throughout his career but one of his most loved and known pieces of work is The Lion and the Mouse

The Lion and the Mouse Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, The New York Times, 2009. 

Jerry Pinkney received over twenty awards since the beginning of his career including the Caldecott Medal and five Caldecott Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Awards, the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show Lifetime Achievement Award, and many other prizes and honors.

In conclusion, Jerry Pinkney is one of the most known and admired children’s book illustrators. His determination for art and to make meaningful work to inspire others, especially his own children paid off and his legacy will continue on as his books have been translated into sixteen different languages and are sold in fourteen different countries. 

Citations

Born: December 22, 1939. “Jerry Pinkney.” Illustration History, https://www.illustrationhistory.org/artists/jerry-pinkney

Jerry Pinkney Studio, https://www.jerrypinkneystudio.com/frameset.html 

“Jerry Pinkney: Penguin Random House.” PenguinRandomhouse.com, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/45616/jerry-pinkney/ 

Sutton, Roger. “GRRRR!!! Oops!” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Nov. 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/books/review/Sutton-t.html

Troncoso, Darya Jandossova. “30 Famous Illustrators You Need to Know.” MarketSplash, MarketSplash, 26 Oct. 2021, https://marketsplash.com/famous-illustrators/