A les­son in grace Hester Bass

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - HESTER BASS

In Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, and other parts of the South dur­ing the civil­rights era, peace­ful pro­tes­tors try­ing to end seg­re­ga­tion, in­clud­ing stu­dents, faced the high-pres­sure blasts of fire hoses and the teeth of po­lice dogs. Martin Luther King Jr. led the protest marches that started in that town to call na­tional at­ten­tion to seg­re­ga­tion. Birm­ing­ham was one of the most seg­re­gated cities in the na­tion in the early 1960s, and vi­o­lent clashes be­tween stu­dents and law en­force­ment marked the protests.

Nearby Huntsville, while also racially seg­re­gated, faced a strug­gle, too, and met it with grace. There, black and white cit­i­zens worked suc­cess­fully to­gether to in­te­grate pub­lic schools and busi­nesses with­out vi­o­lence. Seeds of Free­dom: The Peace­ful In­te­gra­tion of Huntsville, Alabama (Can­dlewick Press, 2015), by chil­dren’s book au­thor and Santa Fe res­i­dent Hester Bass, re­counts the story of Huntsville, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the de­tails of seg­re­gated life. Many peo­ple don’t know that black chil­dren were of­ten not al­lowed to try on shoes in stores and would bring trac­ings of their feet with them to show their size. In one part of the story, a fam­ily is ar­rested for sit­ting in a whites-only restau­rant and re­fus­ing to leave. It’s a quiet act of protest, but sit-ins such as this be­gin to have an ef­fect on the town, which starts to in­te­grate. It’s a his­tory les­son told in the present tense, mak­ing it all feel fresh and en­gag­ing, and it’s en­livened by artist E.B. Lewis’ fluid and ex­pres­sive wa­ter­color il­lus­tra­tions.

Seeds of Free­dom is the se­cond lit­er­ary col­lab­o­ra­tion of Bass and Lewis, who shows his work at Matthews Gallery in Santa Fe. Their first is The Se­cret World

of Wal­ter An­der­son, a true story about a some­what reclusive artist who im­mersed him­self in na­ture at Horn Is­land on the Gulf Coast of Mis­sis­sippi so he could paint. It was pub­lished by Can­dlewick in 2009. “I had been study­ing Wal­ter An­der­son’s work for over 25 years,” Bass told Pasatiempo. “My hus­band had been the di­rec­tor of the Wal­ter An­der­son Mu­seum in Ocean Springs, Mis­sis­sippi, for seven years. We lived there and got to know the Wal­ter An­der­son fam­ily. I knew that the way E.B. Lewis works, he likes to go to the places and see the things he’s go­ing to il­lus­trate. He takes ref­er­ence pho­tog­ra­phy and takes that back to his stu­dio in New Jersey.”

Lewis and Bass met in Huntsville and drove to Mis­sis­sippi to­gether. “We had all that time to re­ally dig deep into this sub­ject and why I felt that Wal­ter An­der­son is some­one ev­ery­body should know. His cen­ten­nial show had been at the Smithsonian. He was kind of a mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure. He kept to his own. He didn’t seek fame and didn’t get it. He wasn’t re­ally an out­sider artist; he was clas­si­cally trained at the Penn­syl­va­nia Academy of the Fine Arts, but he pre­ferred to work alone in na­ture.” An­der­son had four chil­dren. One of his sons agreed to model as his father (who died in 1965) for Lewis’ il­lus­tra­tions, and his el­dest daugh­ter agreed to stand in for her mother. “Wal­ter’s el­dest son took us out to Horn Is­land so we could see it,” Bass said.

The Se­cret World of Wal­ter An­der­son in­cludes ex­am­ples of An­der­son’s own art­work, pre­sented in a con­clud­ing au­thor’s note where it doesn’t com­pete with Lewis’ warm, at­mo­spheric il­lus­tra­tions. “What I love about E.B.’s il­lus­tra­tions is his abil­ity to show the pure joy that Wal­ter An­der­son ex­pe­ri­enced in cre­at­ing art,” Bass said. The book won an Or­bis Pic­tus Award for out­stand­ing chil­dren’s non­fic­tion. Lewis be­came in­ter­ested in Seeds

of Free­dom when he over­heard Bass dis­cussing the book at a Na­tional Coun­cil of Teach­ers of English con­fer­ence, Bass said. “The lady to my left asked me what I was work­ing on, and I said, ‘I’m work­ing on a story about the peace­ful in­te­gra­tion of Huntsville, Alabama.’ And she said, ‘ Are you talk­ing about the Fifth Av­enue School in Huntsville?’ I said, ‘ Yes I am,’ and she said, ‘I was there. I was a third-grader when Son­nie Here­ford was the first African-Amer­i­can child to walk into an Alabama pub­lic school.’ E.B. was lis­ten­ing to our con­ver­sa­tion and gave me a look that said, ‘I want to work on that book.’ ”

The lady at the con­fer­ence was Ann Neely, a pro­fes­sor at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity, whose spe­cialty is chil­dren’s books about civil rights. “She teaches education stu­dents about chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture and us­ing it in the class­room,” Bass said. “I’ve spo­ken to her class sev­eral times. She be­came one of my pri­mary re­sources and went on to write the teach­ers guide that Can­dlewick Press did for Seeds of Free­dom.” When Bass ap­proached Can­dlewick about work­ing with Lewis again, the pub­lisher was de­lighted. “Nor­mally, there is lit­tle to no col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the au­thor and the il­lus­tra­tor,” Bass said. “But Can­dlewick is a very col­lab­o­ra­tive, in­de­pen­dent pub­lisher, and E.B. re­ally got what I was try­ing to say. Wa­ter­color is a dif­fi­cult medium be­cause it’s so fluid and hard to con­trol. E.B. is a mas­ter. I’m thrilled with this part­ner­ship. I don’t know how many books we may do to­gether, but I’m aw­fully happy with the two that we’ve done.”

Bass has three chil­dren’s ti­tles un­der her belt, and her next pro­ject, now in the re­search phase, is about au­thor Eu­dora Welty. “I know sev­eral peo­ple who knew her and trav­eled with her. I’ve been to her house sev­eral times and talked to her bi­og­ra­pher. I’m try­ing to see if I can do for her what I did for Wal­ter An­der­son — just bring a sub­ject chil­dren may not al­ready know to life.” — Michael Abatemarco

Many peo­ple don’t know that black chil­dren were of­ten not al­lowed to try on shoes in stores and would bring trac­ings of their feet with them to show their size.

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