Jerry Pinkney

by Richard S. Lee

Jerry Pinkney was born and raised a few blocks from the offices of Historic Germantown. On Thursday, June 20, Historic Germantown will present Pinkney and two other recipients with the Historic Germantown Hall of Fame Award. This prestigious honor, given annually since 1994, celebrates its honorees’ achievements locally, regionally and nationally.

Pinkney, born in 1939, was one of four children. He began drawing at age four and was encouraged by his mother to follow whatever course he chose.

“She had a sense of belief in me,” he said during a recent interview. “I was influenced by my father, too. He was a remarkable craftsman. He loved to fix and make things – and he worked with great precision and care. To him, it was part of what he called ‘being upright.’

“All of us kids learned to make do with relatively little. We had to create, to invent what to do, and we did. I remember seeing what at the time I thought of simply as ‘old buildings’ in our neighborhood. If there was no welcome sign, we didn’t go in. It was only years later, when I was studying art, and began to see history as storytelling, that I started to appreciate these old buildings, first for their architecture and then for their historical significance.

“From a young age, I wanted to see the world as bigger than our neighborhood. A great summer weekend thrill was going to visit my uncle and his family way, way over in Berlin, New Jersey – crossing over the Ben Franklin Bridge was always a thrill and quite a change from city streets.”

Even before high school at Dobbins Vocational, Pinkney knew that his future would lie with art. He had met several artists, and received a full scholarship to the Museum School, now the University of the Arts. As a successful artist – he has illustrated more than 100 books among other commissions – he has placed history at the core of his career. He likens the accuracy demanded by historical storytelling to that of his father’s varied projects.

As an illustrator, he has come to embrace the African diaspora, and the issues surrounding slavery, abolition, emancipation, and the still-evolving role of African Americans in our nation’s history. He has received numerous honors for his work, including the Caldecott Medal and five Caldecott Honors, the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. More than 100 of Pinkney’s empathic and powerful illustrations were recently on show at Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum.

On receiving Historic Germantown’s Hall of Fame Award, Pinkney said: “The recognition is great; to be honored by a community that at one time might not have done so is very important to me. Yes, I have traveled, and I live in New York State, but in a real sense, I never left, and to see the award through this lens is really awesome.”

In addition to Pinkney, Historic Germantown’s 2019 Hall of Fame honorees will include Joan Countryman, the first African American student at the Germantown Friends’ School, a mathematics teacher there for 23 years and co-founder of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa; and Alice Lea Tasman, a founder of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and a history-oriented fundraiser responsible for the success of the History Hunters program, which has welcomed more than 30,000 youngsters to Historic Germantown’s member sites.

The awards ceremony will be the highlight of a gala celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 20, with music, food and drink in the courtyard of Historic Germantown’s headquarters at 5501 Germantown Ave. Tickets or sponsorships: Ten percent of all proceeds will go to Historic Germantown’s Saving Our Sites Fund.