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Gallery Hosts Kadir Nelson Exhibition
March 13, 2008

This spring, the Center Art Gallery will be hosting “Beauty of the Spirit,” an exhibition of the work of renowned African-American artist and illustrator Kadir Nelson.

Harriet Tubman  The exhibition, held March 17 through April 19, 2008, will coincide with Calvin’s 2008 Festival of Faith and Writing where Nelson will be a featured speaker.

The gallery will also host a book signing by Nelson at the exhibition reception on Friday, April 18. That event will run from 6:30-8 p.m. in the lower Gezon lobby with books available for purchase and refreshments.

“Kadir Nelson is connected with very diverse and intriguing realms of the art world,” said Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart. “We’re glad to have the opportunity to expand on his festival appearance by hosting his work.”

Nelson is the illustrator of children’s books such as the Caldecott Honor Award-winning Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom and Henry’s Freedom Box. He has also served as a lead conceptual artist on films such as Amistad and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and worked on commissions for Sports Illustrated, Coca-Cola, the United States Postal Service and Major League Baseball. His work is collected by a host of celebrities, among them Spike Lee, Jalen Rose, Denzel Washington, Venus Williams and Berry Gordy.

New Nelson Book Illustrates Story of Negro Baseball

Nelson’s recent book We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball is a thoroughgoing history of that league, celebrating the athletic achievements of the players, the distinctiveness of their game and the racism that dogged them at every turn. (Images from the book were recently featured in the March 10, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated.)

We Are the Ship is a tour de force,” said Calvin English professor Donald Hettinga, a coordinator of the Festival of Faith and Writing, which takes place April 17 through 19, 2008.  “The paintings present bold studies of the players and the games done with a maturity and liveliness that's reminiscent of the era, a time that was, essentially, the heyday of magazine illustration.”  

“Beauty of the Spirit” includes paintings from five of Nelson’s books—Moses, We Are the Ship, Ellington Was Not a Street, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, and Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life—as well as personal works.

“There’s a quality of spirit that runs through his work,” said Zwart. “When you look at it, it gives you a pause to reflect on it. But there is also a rhythm to it, a sense of quiet energy, whether he’s illustrating narrative or sports or biography.”

Several of the works in “Beauty of the Spirit” are representative of Nelson’s interest in themes of African American history, Zwart noted. “There’s that deep interest in things that are important to the African American community, stories that need to be told, and I think the illustrations he does for these stories have a quiet spirit of strength because they’re often about resilience and a striving to overcome.”

This is the second partnership between the Center Art Gallery and a Calvin literary festival. Last April, the gallery hosted an exhibition of works by James Ransome, a speaker at last year’s Youth Writing Festivals.

“It’s another great opportunity to collaborate on campus with a premier event,” Zwart said, “This exhibition benefits the festival and the gallery as well as the people who visit campus. It’s one thing to hear someone talk about his work and another to actually see it. We’re giving people the opportunity to do both.”

~written by Calvin senior writer Myrna Anderson

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