Children's book illustrator depicts African American heroes, history

PLAINVIEW – In his own words, artist Bryan Collier is “looking for the thread that connects all of us, … that seed of individuality.” In so doing, the children’s book illustrator has captured historic heroes and events that remind us of the importance of art as a bridge to the connection of the human race.

Collier’s work will be on display at the Abraham Family Art Gallery at Wayland Baptist University through Nov. 16, a colorful collection of unique creations in an exhibition sponsored by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas.

Called “Defining Moments,” the exhibit features prints from Collier’s work on nine different children’s books. Centerpieces include two works for which Collier earned the Caldecott Award for illustrations, Martin’s Big Words in 2002 and Rosa in 2006. Other books have won prestigious honors such as the Coretta Scott King Award, the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award, and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award.

Collier’s work incorporates a unique style of watercolor and collage, creating texture and contrast in each piece.

“The combination of  pieces of original watercolor illustration and photo-collage elements create layers of visual depth and really bring the stories to life. The works engage the viewer with unique perspectives in social history and politics,” said Dr. Candace Keller, professor of art and curator of art for the Abraham Gallery. “Collier has selected heroic figures and important events of historic significance from which to draw his inspiration. Not only will gallery visitors enjoy the excellent works of art, they will experience a wonderful review of history.”

For Rosa, a book by Nikki Giovanni, the artist uses bright color and contrast to tell the story of historic African-American Rosa Parks. For Martin’s Big Words, the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech comes to life in brilliant color and detail.

Betty Carter, children’s literature specialist, noted of Collier’s work, “His fabrics create a texture and context for each story. Collier uses these kinds of layers for breadth and depth in his art, thus serving as a visual feast.”

The show also includes work from What’s the Hurry, Fox?, John’s Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon, Visiting Langston, Freedom River, These Hands, and Uptown.

A native of Pocomoke, Md., Collier had an early interest in art and began painting as a teenager. He won first place in a Congressional Competition in 1985 and his work was displayed at the nation’s capitol. He earned a scholarship to the Pratt Institute in New York City and graduated with honors in 1989.

While in school, he volunteered with the Harlem Horizon Studio and Harlem Hospital Center, later serving as the program’s director for 12 years. He still volunteers with the program, working as a mentor for children in the community. He also speaks regularly in schools, sharing his love for books and art and the combination of both.

The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular hours of the Mabee Learning Resources Center, which houses the gallery in its lower level. Hours are: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday 2-5 p.m. Group tours are welcome. For more information, call 291-3710.