A Journey in Color: The Art of Ellis Wilson (Hardcover)
Email or call for price.
A Journey in Color: The Art of Ellis Wilson tells the story of a young man’s determined path to become a classically trained artist. Growing up in rural Kentucky in the early twentieth century, Wilson needed to convince his family and neighbors that art was a path worth choosing over becoming a farmer or teacher. And he had to find an art school that judged him for his talent and not for the color of his skin. How Wilson saw the world influenced his vibrant, groundbreaking art, as well as the lifelong pursuit of his dream “to paint all the time—everything of interest and beauty.”
About the Author
Jayne Moore Waldrop is a writer and attorney who loves telling stories about her native western Kentucky. She is the author of Drowned Town (University Press of Kentucky, 2021), an INDIES Book of the Year Award silver winner in fiction, and of Retracing My Steps (2019) and Pandemic Lent: A Season in Poems (2021), both published by Finishing Line Press. This is her debut children’s book.
Michael McBride, a Nashville, Tennessee-based artist and a professor at Tennessee State University, has illustrated over 75 children’s books. He was featured in Visions of My People: Sixty Years of African American Art in Tennessee, an exhibit organized by the Tennessee State Museum. He was commissioned to paint a four-story mural honoring US Representative John Lewis, completed and installed in downtown Nashville in November 2021. Too Black Too Fast is a touring art exhibit created by McBride to celebrate the history of African American jockeys in Thoroughbred racing and their contributions to the sport. McBride earned his undergraduate degree in art from Tennessee State University and his graduate degree in painting from Illinois State University.
"Waldrop offers an illustrated story for children about the life of Harlem Renaissance artist Ellis Wilson (1899-1977).
"As the story opens, Wilson is a young boy growing up in rural Kentucky who has dreams of being a painter ('At a time when most folks saw the world as black or white, young Ellis Wilson watched colors dance across canvas'). Inspired by his father’s painting hobby, Ellis decides he wants to become an artist. He sketches constantly, whether it’s at the barbershop where his dad works or while listening to his mother sing with the local church. Despite being told by everyone around him that there’s no way to make a living by painting, Ellis continues to practice. When it comes time to apply to art schools, the young man faces rejection after rejection, due to his skin color, but finally catches a break when a Chicago art school (revealed to be the Art Institute of Chicago in an author’s note) accepts him. After learning everything he can in that city, Ellis eventually makes a home in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, where he works odd jobs to make ends meet while painting the everyday scenes he sees. Ellis’ work begins to catch the attention of the art community, where he gains recognition and acclaim. His skilled portrayals of working people strike chords with many people to this day…[T]his engaging true story is still likely to appeal to creative children. Artist and Tennessee State University professor McBride’s painterly, color illustrations use bold, broad strokes that will help readers to visually experience the power of Ellis’ life and work. The book’s backmatter includes more detailed biographical and professional information about Wilson, as well as author and illustrator bios."
"An uplifting look at the influences and inspirations that fueled an artist, and the legacy he left behind."—Kirkus Reviews
"In a small Kentucky town where 'witch hazel and shaving soap scent…the air,' a boy learns to love art by watching his father paint pictures before work. His father warns him, though, that art should be a mere hobby—it won’t pay the bills. Nonetheless, Ellis grows up knowing that painting is his destiny. Inspiration is everywhere—at church; in the barbershop—in this biographical picture book about an artist who ignored discouragements to nurse his dreams beneath a pastel sky."—Foreword Reviews
"It was 'a time when most folks saw the world as black or white,' according to Jayne Moore Waldrop’s book, The Art of Ellis Wilson: A Journey in Color. Illustrated by Michael McBride and published by Shadelandhouse Modern Press....Ellis Wilson (1899-1977) was Black, born under the oppressive wing of Jim Crow laws. Instead of seeing the harsh limitations of the world he lived in, he recognized the magic of art as he watched colors dance across canvas....Reviewing [Wilson's archived personal papers] at the Smithsonian, Waldrop could see what he valued, 'what mattered to him,' is the way she put it. She was able to use his words in writing the book, including quotes from his Guggenheim grant application....Using many of Wilson’s own words, however, gave the 'voice' of the book the legitimacy she sought." —Constance Alexander, "Children’s book offers look at colorful life of artist, Mayfield native Ellis Wilson," Northern Kentucky Tribune
"Ellis Wilson knew his calling early….Waldrop’s transparent narrative stays right next to Ellis, and McBride’s illustrations follow her lead, keeping the reader close to the emotional truth of the story."
—George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate 2015–2016 and author of Time to Fly
“It’s impossible to see Ellis Wilson’s work and not fall in love with how he saw the world. Having his own words come to life in this wonderful and important children's book makes me doubly proud to see another part of Kentucky’s rich Black history captured and to hold another bedside favorite I can’t wait to read to my son.”—Frank X Walker, Kentucky Poet Laureate 2013–2014 and author of A Is For Affrilachia