Books by Gwen Everett

JOHN BROWN by Gwen Everett
Released: May 1, 1993

It takes searching through three notes—by the chief historian at Harper's Ferry, a curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts (which owns the art), and the editor—plus what seem to be the 1941 paintings' original titles (listed in the back; year given only in jacket copy) to piece together the bases of this powerful presentation. Lawrence, a fine artist, is best known in children's books for his illustrations for Harriet and the Promised Land (1968). The 16 gouaches here (from a series of 22 on Brown) are captivating—stark compositions with flat areas of earth tones and weighty black, featuring the fanatical abolitionist, the slaves he planned to free, and a dramatic, dour landscape. But Everett's text is somewhat problematic. In her fine Li'l Sis and Uncle Willie (1992), a child who knew the artist narrates; here, Brown's daughter Annie—admiring yet clear-eyed—shares reservations about his violent tactics (``Father could choose to use the pen to fight slavery''). Everett sets herself a difficult task: a narrator who fully subscribed to Brown's fiercely quixotic plans could not perceive their danger so clearly. The Annie that Everett depicts (she cites no sources for her characterization) doesn't quite convey the extraordinary passion of the man who believed that ``the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood'': Lawrence's splendid art, here published in color for the first time, speaks with far more power. Still, the inexorable events described in her quiet narrative are compelling, firmly supporting her theme: ``One man against slavery did make a difference.'' (Nonfiction. 8+) Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 24, 1992

Johnson (1901-70) was a black painter, born in South Carolina and trained in New York, who lived for 12 years in Denmark, married a Danish woman, and (after her death) spent his last 20 years in a mental institution. Over 1,000 of his bold, brilliantly expressive paintings are now in the National Museum of American Art. Everett, an art educator at the museum, tells the artist's story through a careful selection of 27 of his paintings (beautifully reproduced) linked by a slightly fictionalized text narrated by Johnson's niece. The device works surprisingly well, allowing Everett to describe the man himself as an occasional, somewhat exotic, but well-loved visitor to his hometown, and to give background on some of the subjects he drew from his own life and the black experience—including cotton- pickers, Harlem dancers, and a charming portrait of Li'l Sis at age six, with her doll. There are also a few b&w photos. It would have been nice to know more about the sizes of the paintings and the mediums used; still, an excellent introduction to an outstanding artist who deserves wider recognition. (Nonfiction. 6-12) Read full book review >