TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Jerry Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney has been illustrating children’s books since 1964 and has the rare distinction of receiving three Caldecott Honor Medals – in 1995 for John Henry (Dial) by Julius Lester and once two years on a row for The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci (Dial) and Mirandy and Brother Wind (Knopf). He is the only illustrator to have won the Coretta Scott King Award three times, and has received three awards for his body of work, the Drexel Citation for Children’s Literature, the David McCord Award, and the Philadelphia School of Art and Design Alumni Award.

In addition to his work on children’s books, he is an extremely successful illustrator who has had eleven one-man retrospectives at venues ranging from the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists to the Massachusetts College of Art and has illustrated for a wide variety of clients, including National Geographic, RCA Records, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Association of Booksellers for Children.

Born in Philadelphia, Jerry Pinkney “took an interest in drawing very early in my life. It had to do with my two older brothers drawing – both from comic books and photo magazines. I actually started out mimicking them, but at some point I realized I’d rather sit and draw than do almost anything else.”

While growing up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia his interest in art was supported by his family – especially by his mother. “She certainly understood me and made it clear to everyone, and especially to my dad, that if art was what I wanted to pursue, then that’s what she wanted to have happen. Later on, my father became very supportive in getting me into art classes.”

In junior high school, Mr. Pinkney had a newsstand and took a drawing pad with him to work every day and sketched passersby. That was how he met the cartoonist John Liney, who encouraged him to draw and showed him the possibilities of making a living as an artist.

After graduating from the commercial art course at Dobbins Vocational School, where he met his wife Gloria, Jerry Pinkney received a full scholarship to attend the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now University of the Arts). While at PCA, he and Gloria married. They moved to Boston after their first child was born, where Mr. Pinkney worked as a designer at Rustcraft Greeting Card Company, and at Barker-Black, where he developed his reputation as an illustrator. Eventually he opened Kaleidoscope Studio with two other artists. Later, he opened his own freelance studio – Jerry Pinkney Studio – and moved to New York.

Sensitivity to and an interest in a variety of cultures has always been a dominant theme of Mr. Pinkney’s work. He has also drawn inspiration for a significant part of his work from African-American culture. Among his numerous projects are his eleven postage stamps for the U.S. Postal Service Black Heritage series. Still a member of its Advisory Committee, he was also invited to join the NASA artist team for the Space Shuttle Columbia. “I wanted to show that an African-American artist could make it in this country on a national level in the graphic arts. I want to be a strong role model for my family and for other African Americans.”

Many of Mr. Pinkney’s children’s books celebrate multicultural and African-American themes. “Working on both the Uncle Remus tales and John Henry has shown me an important link between pivotal and opposite African-American folk heroes. Bre’r Rabbit, the sly trickster, originated during slavery and was the first African-American folk hero. Slaves who wanted to get the better of their masters needed to be cunning and sly – hence the trickster role. However, later comes John Henry, a free man, whose strength and valor bring him fame. He was the first strong folk hero for African Americans, a symbol of all the working men who made a major contribution to the building of the roads and railroads in the mountains of West Virginia – a dangerous job for which many paid with their lives.”

“Books give me a great feeling of personal and artistic satisfaction. When I’m working on a book I wish the phone would never ring. I love doing it. My satisfaction comes from the actual marks on the paper, and when it sings, it’s magic.”

Jerry Pinkney lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife, author Gloria Jean Pinkney. The Pinkneys have four grown children, Troy, Scott, Myles, and the children’s book illustrator Brian. In addition to illustrating children’s books and other projects, Mr. Pinkney has also been an art professor at the University of Delaware and State University of New York at Buffalo, and has given workshops and been a guest lecturer at universities and art schools across the country.

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