Tag Archives: Visual Art

Painting the Picture: Exploring Diversity in Children’s Literature

By Lena Rutheford

When was the last time you read a children’s book? Do you have a childhood favorite? You might gain a new perspective on children’s literature, and particularly children’s book illustrations, at the Miami University Art Museum’s upcoming exhibition Telling a People’s Story: African American Children’s Illustrated Literature on January 30 – June 30, 2018. For curator of exhibition, Jason Shaiman, children’s literature holds a special place in his heart. Shaiman has a particular passion for Curious George, which was the impetus for this exhibition. He originally enjoyed the series growing up and his love for children’s literature inspired him to create an exhibition with it. Shaiman shares, “When I read children’s books with my child, I’m often caught by the notion of how often I just read the stories, and my child is hearing the stories. He can’t read it, but he’s hearing it and seeing the illustrations, and he’s understanding it. The story and the illustrations are inseparable because you wouldn’t have the art if it wasn’t for the story, and the imagery often presents what the text can’t because there are limited words. Illustrations can demonstrate the author’s intent.”

Telling a People’s Story was born from Shaiman’s passion for children’s literature and illustrations and has been ten years in the making. Shaiman originally came up with the idea when he was Chief Curator of Exhibitions at McKissick Museum at University of South Carolina. This museum focused on Southern culture and identity, so Shaiman wanted to combine children’s literature with the exploration of Southern identity. While his idea didn’t come to fruition at McKissick Museum, he kept the idea alive once he transitioned to Miami’s Art Museum. He chose to focus on how African American cultural and historical identity has changed over time through the lens of children’s literature because, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 7.6% of all children’s books published in 2015 depict African American characters. The exhibition will feature over 30 African American illustrators with 130+ works of art and will include a chronological section focusing on African American history, as well as a biographical section celebrating figures such as York, a slave who went on the Lewis and Clark expedition, musicians, athletes, and more. Shaiman has made this an educational opportunity, not just a celebration, because “simply celebrating wouldn’t do justice to recognizing the contributions from African American authors over those decades” (Shaiman). Telling a People’s Story shows the intersection of African American cultural and historical identity and the evolution of children’s books.

According to Shaiman, nothing like this has ever been done before. There has never been such an extensive focus on African American children’s book illustrators in conjunction with African American identity. Shaiman affirms that books that focus on African American identity never have more than one or two chapters on children’s book illustrations. Additionally, there has never been an exhibit this extensive. While there have been exhibits featuring John Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King award winners, those exhibits never contextualize the illustrations by African American cultural and historical identity. Additionally, according to Shaiman, those awards did a poor job of recognizing African Americans to begin with. The John Newbery award came out in 1922 to honor children’s literature authors, and the first African American to win was in 1976 (Park). The Caldecott Award came out in 1937 for illustrators, and didn’t recognize an African American until 1976 (SLJ). The Coretta Scott King Award was created solely to recognize African American authors and illustrators and was created in 1970 (Coretta Scott King Award). It took around 50 years for an African American illustrator or author to be recognized, meaning these exhibitions don’t accurately represent all that has been done by African Americans in children’s literature. This exhibit will truly be the first time that African American children’s literature is covered in depth and in the context of African American culture and history.

It’s also very special that this is occurring at Miami University’s Art Museum because of the unique opportunities for students and locals. The museum will be hosting a two-day conference in April 2018 bring together many African American illustrators, authors, and scholars. There will be a class, EDT 285, African American Children’s Art Illustration, offered to Miami students in spring semester 2018, while the exhibit is up. Miami classes in education, art, sociology, black world studies, English, and American history will be interacting with the exhibit as well. Several programs throughout the semester will give students and locals the opportunity to meet the illustrators and hear them speak or do workshops with them. The synergy between the university and the art museum provide unique opportunities for students, faculty, and locals to learn and grow together. This is yet another reason why Telling a People’s Story is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

We look forward to seeing you at the exhibition!


SLJ. (2012, May 30). LeoLeo Dillon, the First African American Caldecott Winner, Dies at 79. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2012/05/industry-news/leo-dillon-the-first-african-american-caldecott-winner-dies-at-79/#_

Park, Linda S. (2017). Newbery Trivia The Answers. Linda Sue Park. Retrieved from http://www.lindasuepark.com/fun/new_answ.html

Coretta Scott King Award. (2017, November 30). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coretta_Scott_King_Award

Shaiman, J. (2017, November 30). Personal Interview.

Letting Art Drive My Education

By Andrew Walker

February 2014

After applying to numerous schools and getting admitted to many, as well, I had narrowed my choices down to two schools. I was either going to go to Indiana University and pursue business in the Kelly school of business or attend Miami University and study architecture. I was very torn between the two and was really struggling to make a decision. I had talked to numerous people and they seemed to advise me to pursue business because there were more jobs in that field and a better possibility of getting a job after graduation.

March 2014

I was fully on board with attending the University of Indiana, I was about to commit to this school until something changed. As I was walking to lunch one day, I ran into my old art teacher. Just to give some background on my relationship with her. I took an art class with her the fall semester my senior year of high school. Before this class, I had never taken an art class. I had never sat down and dedicated my time to drawing or painting, but in this class, I did just that. The first assignment we were to draw a self-portrait, I sat down and went to work. Three hours later, I had surprised myself with the outcome. I had produced a very nice drawing that I did not know I was capable of. The next day I brought my art to class and presented it to my teacher. She was very impressed and asked me why I had never taken an art class before. I simply told her that I did not know I capable of this. After this assignment, we were given a couple other drawing prompts throughout the semester, that I out a lot of effort into. After the class had ended she had encouraged me

She asked me where I was going to attend college and I told her my two choices and that I was leaning toward Indiana. She then talked to me about how I had a skill that not many other people have and said I would be wasting it I didn’t pursue Architecture. I went home that day and thought a lot about what she said.

August 2014

This was when I moved into my dorm at Miami University. I was very curious to see what my classes were like and how I could incorporate art into my major. For the beginning of my freshman year, I was regretting my decision. My architecture classes did not incorporate art into them as much as I thought they would.

March 2015

At this point in my career, I was beginning to enjoy my classes. I had started to blossom in the architecture field and was happy with the choice I made late in my senior year of high school. For our last studio project and was starting to see how my artistic ability and thoughts steered my work.

February 2016

This is the day I decided to pursue arts entrepreneurship. After having a long discussion with my academic advisor about a potential minor or thematic sequence in this department, I decided to enroll IN CCA 111.

December 2016

I was wrapping up my first ever CCA class. This class was extremely different from any other class I had taken. It required me to think outside of the box. It also taught me about how valuable art can be in a business industry and all the possible ways I could use it when I graduate.

March 2017

I was about to finish up my semester abroad in Barcelona. Being abroad made me appreciate art in a way I had not before. I got to travel all around Europe and go to various art museums and see how a different culture looks at art. The European culture appreciates art a lot more than Americans because they have had a longer existence and have had some pretty incredible minds throughout their history.

In my studio for class abroad, our project was different than anything I have had to do at Miami. I was challenged to create a sustainable device that was aesthetically pleasing. This is where my artistic background had really come in handy. I was able to choose and construct a square algae pod. For our final presentation, I had to create handmade renders and was able to utilize my drawing ability.

December 2017

I have just finished up my first arts entrepreneurship class. This class has helped me combine what I love into a way I can possibly make a profit. I have created a website where I can sell my own artwork and the artwork of others as well. This is something that I look to continue doing in the future.

After this class has ended I have look back at my life and saw how much art has influenced it. Art made me enroll at Miami, and if I had not done that I would have never met all the wonderful people that I call my friends today. My life would be very different if I had not gone to school here, I would be just another business kid taking finance and other classes that I would not enjoy. But instead, I am taking classes that I love and that I am extremely interested in. I am very happy what art has done for me in my life and I look forward to how it will affect my life in the future.

Andrew Walker is an aspiring architect and a student at Miami University studying Architecture and Arts Entrepreneurship.