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Art Gallery, Writing Fests Partner for Exhibit
posted April 5, 2007

The Center Art Gallery, in an unprecedented collaboration with the 2007 Youth Writing Festivals, is hosting the exhibition Visual Stories: The Artwork of James Ransome from Tuesday, March 26 through Saturday, April 28.

James RansomeRansome is a much-awarded children’s book illustrator who will be a guest artist at this year’s April 26-28 festival. He also will attend a special reception at the gallery from 7 through 9 p.m. on April 26, where he will meet patrons and sign copies of his books.

“This is a great opportunity to partner with a premiere event from another Calvin department,” says Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart of the English-department sponsored festival. “We have a children’s book illustrator coming to the Youth Writing Festivals, and his work will be on display in the gallery while he’s here for the festival-goers and the public to enjoy.”

The illustrator of more than 40 books, Ransome has won a wealth of honors, among them the ALA Notable Book Award and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book award for Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the IBBY Award for The Creation, the NAACP Image Award for Illustration for Let My People Go and the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance Award for The Wagon. His books have also been featured on Reading Rainbow and PBS Storytime.

Leroy Robert Satchel PaigeVisual Stories, which has toured the nation since 2003, features 53 original oil and watercolor paintings that became the artwork for 17 Ransome books, including one on Satchel Paige (left).

The exhibit also includes a bonus in Ransome's sketchbooks and dummy books, something, says Zwart, that will allow visitors a glimpse into the creative process that happens between an artist and writer.

Much of the art in the exhibit celebrates the African-American themes that are central to Ransome’s work.

“He’s been able to choose his projects, and many of them revolve around his African American heritage,” says Zwart. “We haven’t done many exhibits of African-American art, and this was an opportunity to fill that void in the gallery and to serve a subject matter that’s underserved.”

And Zwart says illustration also is often underserved, relegated to a realm outside the fine arts because the work is being influenced by the direction of the publisher or the manuscript that’s been provided by the writer.

He disagrees with that approach.

"It shouldn’t be considered merely a technique or craft," he says. "Every artist works within constraints, whether it’s the material, or the subject matter that they feel comfortable with or the image that they’ve chosen to use. And it’s truly an art form to bring visual life to the words of a writer.”

Calvin professor of children’s literature Gary Schmidt, a coordinator of the Youth Writing Festivals, agrees and describes Ransome as a master illustrator.

"He has this ability to capture real life, real emotions, real situations in powerful imagery that captures interior character. That might be his great gift,” Schmidt says.

Both collaborators are excited about how Visual Stories will bring a new dimension to the festival for the young authors who attend both.

"It brings together artists and writers, and that’s what the Youth Writing Festivals is all about,” says Zwart.

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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